So normally I hate Historical Fiction. With a burning passion. I've never been much of a history buff, which is probably why I don't usually like reading about how life was during the Holocaust (depressing), down on the ol' plantation (boooooooring), or fighting in the Revolutionary War (boring AND depressing). So, you can imagine when I got the assignment to read Black Duck, a historical fiction novel, for my YA literature class, I died a little inside. I knew by the groans in the classroom that I was not alone in my hatred of historical fiction. However, my professor warned us that she'd turn us at least a little bit in the direction of tolerating historical fiction, and I hate to admit it, but she was right about this book.
Black Duck by Janet Taylor Lisle is an adventurous account of a young boy living dangerously close to rum runner territory during Prohibition. It might sound a little boring at first; after all, I am among those who dread reading about the Great Depression period. However, this novel bordered on a pirate novel, except for the fact that all of the thievery and secrecy happened on land.
Ruben and his best friend Jeddy are walking along the beach one day when they find a body. The man has been shot and washed up on the shore! The two friends search the man for any kind of ID, finding nothing except an old tobacco purse (which Ruben takes) and a few other odds and ends. When they go to tell the local police (one of which is Jeddy's dad), it takes the police hours to show up, by which time the body is gone without a trace, leaving Ruben and Jeddy looking like liars.
Finally, word gets around that the body was discovered by the Coast Guard, and that the man was involved with rum runners. During this time, alcohol was illegal, so people would buy liquor from other countries, in this novel mainly Canada, and have it shipped to the coast by boat in the dead of night. It turns out that there are warring gangs who are fighting for territory and trying to conduct massive "business transactions" on the beaches right near where Ruben lives. The most famous, or perhaps infamous, rum runner boat is the Black Duck, which has escaped the police and Coast Guard innumerable times.
As the novel goes on, Ruben becomes wrapped up in the rum running scandals, since he was the one to discover the body. Inside the tobacco case is something that many different rum runners want desperately. And since they're already breaking the law by importing and selling liquor, these men aren't above breaking some more laws to get what they want from Ruben.
I wish I could tell more about the story but obviously I can't give it away. I'll just say that what follows is some great adventures that are reminiscent of pirate stories, and action that barely stops. The story is narrated by a much older Ruben, telling his tales to a young, aspiring reporter, who reminds Ruben a lot of himself.
I said it before and I'll say it again: I usually HATE historical fiction, so I did not expect to like this book in the slightest. I picked it up reluctantly, expecting to struggle through it, but I couldn't put it down. The short chapters and exciting action sequences made for a quick, and entertaining read. I can't say I'm sold on historical fiction, but this novel did lean me in the direction of liking it a little better.