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“Can you . . . can you do that any time? I mean, could you just fly around whenever you want? Like a bird?” Peter. - Peter and the Starcatchers.
Peter and the Starcatchers
by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson
AR Test, Must Read
Peter thinks life cannot get any worse after he and some other boys from the orphanage are dumped on a ship. They’re told that they are bound to become servants to a cruel king. But then strange things start happening on the ship: flying rats, talking porpoises, and a mysterious girl named Molly. The strange occurrences all center around one heavily guarded trunk. But when Peter tries to investigate, Molly gets in his way.
Molly’s father is a starcatcher, with a very important mission. He’s supposed to be transporting precious cargo on another ship. When Molly discovers the two trunk got switched and the precious cargo is on her ship, she knows she must guard it from an overly curious orphan boy. However, when the porpoises tell her a pirate is coming for the treasure, Molly may just have to trust Peter in order to stop the powerful treasure from falling into the wrong hands.
The first half of Peter and the Starcatchers bounces between Peter’s, the pirate Black Stache’s, and Molly’s father’s perspective, creating a fast-paced narrative as the three ships maneuver to steal or protect the treasure. The second half of the book takes place on a remote island, after Peter’s ship crashes onto an island reef. Again, the perspective changes frequently from a wide host of characters, but rather than being confusing, the changing perspectives create excitement and allow readers to see what is happening all over the island. Each character is developed enough to have a unique voice, and readers will enjoy watching as each person fights for a different goal.
The story has plenty of action and suspense, which may frighten more timid readers. Anyone who enjoys a swashbuckling adventure will be delighted by the frequent twists and turns as the different parties clash in their struggle for the treasure. By the end of the story, the island becomes quite crowded with people vying for the treasure, including: Peter and the other orphan boys, Molly, Black Stache and his pirates, the island natives, a group of newly-created mermaids, and Molly’s father with his team of Starcatchers. Each group is well-developed and richly described. Readers will love seeing the story from each group’s perspective—even the groups they are rooting against!
While the large cast of characters doesn’t allow for every individual to be deeply developed—for example, most of Black Stache’s crew are stereotypical pirates—every character is colorful and the more prominent characters are well-developed. Peter and Molly are both very likable and are realistically portrayed. For example, they act bravely but admit to being afraid. They also admit when they make mistakes and learn the importance of working together.
While Peter and the Starcatchers shows the importance of working together, its biggest successes are its wonderful cast of colorful characters and a nonstop, zig-zag plot that is packed full of adventure. This is not a traditional Peter Pan stories, but a delightfully creative take on the original tale. Readers will enjoy when aspects of the original story (mermaids, a crocodile, and a one-handed pirate) are revealed. While there are sequels, all of the main story lines are neatly tied up in this book, allowing readers to decide if they want to be satisfied with this adventure or reach for another.
- Peter overhears Molly’s governess and Mr. Slank in a cabin. Molly’s governess says, “Oh, Mr. Slank! . . . You are a devil!” To which Slank replies, “’That I am . . . And you know what they say! . . . the devil take the hindmost!’ Then Peter hears Mrs. Bumbrake emit a very un-governess-like squeal, followed by what sounded like a slap, followed by some thumping, then more squealing, then more thumping and then much laughing.”
- The pirate Black Stache has a secret weapon called “The Ladies.” Instead of normal sails on his pirate ship, “the sky above the pirate ship was filled with an enormous black brassiere—an undergarment of fantastic size, as if made for a giant woman. The twin mountains of fabric, funnel-shaped, pointed and bulged ahead of the breeze.”
- Peter meets a mermaid. “She did not appear to be wearing any clothes, her only covering coming from her lush cascade of hair. Ordinarily this second thing would have gotten Peter’s full attention, but he was much distracted by the third thing, which was blood seeping from a deep gash in her forehead.”
- A mermaid saves Peter from drowning. “Her mouth was touching his mouth, and—the strangest thing—her breath was becoming Peter’s breath.”
- Grempkin, a man from the orphanage, likes cuffing boys on the ear when they annoy him. “ ‘OW!’ said Thomas, upon being cuffed a second time by Grempkin.”
- Slank, the man in charge of Peter’s ship, also likes cuffing boys’ ears. “
- When a man tries to abandon ship, a guard stops him with a whip. The man “had taken perhaps three long strides when the whip cracked . . . and wrapped itself around this man’s ankle like a snake. The sailor crashed to the deck . . . [Slank] drew back his leg and kicked the would-be escapee hard in the ribs.”
- Molly tells Peter about His Royal Highness, King Zarboff the Third, and how, “if you don’t salute with these three fingers when you say his name, and he finds out, he has these very fingers cut off.”
- When pirates board Molly’s father’s ship, the captain’s “men fought courageously, but the pirates outnumbered them two to one. He could not stomach watching his men be slaughtered in a hopeless cause.” The captain surrenders.
- Molly and Peter try to throw the trunk with the treasure overboard. “Molly screamed as Slank, grabbing her by her hair, yanked her away from the trunk. Peter lunged forward, grabbed Slank’s arm, and sank his teeth into it, tasting blood. Now it was Slank’s turn to scream.”
- Pirates board Peter’s ship, and Molly defends the trunk. “She lunged toward Stache, her green eyes blazing with fury. Before Stache could react, she had knocked him away from the trunk, her hands clawing at his face . . . his screams mingling with the roars of the giant, who had lunged forward to grab the escaping girl, only to be attached by the pirates who’d been watching him.”
- Peter’s ship sinks in a storm. “The Never Land broke apart, whole sections of the deck tearing loose, the masts splintering like twigs. A crewman was pitched, screaming, into the sea; he was followed by another, and then another.” The boys manage to climb into a dory and survive.
- Slank and his giant crewman, Little Richard, try to steal the trunk from mermaids. “The instant he moved, another she-fish . . . hissed and darted forward, snakelike, opening her own hideous mouth and clamping her needle-sharp teeth down on his right forearm. Slank whirled to shoot it, but Little Richard, bellowing in pain, moved faster; he brought his massive left fist down on the she-fish’s head. She emitted a blood-chilling screech and fell away into the dark water.” The struggle is described over two pages.
- The mermaids attack again. “The water boiled ominously around them. Little Richard screamed as he was bitten on his right leg, then his left.” Little Richard survives.
- Slank crashes the dory into a mermaid. “The bow lifted slightly, avoiding a direct collision with the trunk, but striking the defiant mermaid. Slank felt the thud in his feet. That’s one less to worry about.” The mermaid is knocked unconscious.
- Slank holds a mermaid captive, “holding the knife at her neck.” The other mermaids try to rescue her. “From time to time the knife cut, or the whip connected, each time drawing a scream. The water around the longboat grew cloudy with blood. But the mermaids kept coming, coming, frothing the water around the unsteady longboat.” The fight is described over two pages.
- Peter is knocked unconscious. “The clublike wooden handle of Little Richard’s whip, two feet of two-inch-diameter oak, slammed into Peter’s skull from behind. Peter instantly crumpled to the shallow water, unable to break his fall, and lay face down, motionless.”
- Peter and Molly attack Slank with coconuts. “Blood streaming down his face, Slank lunged to his feet, flailing his arms as he staggered toward the lagoon, the children still clinging to his back and bashing him with coconuts.”
- Slank threatens Molly with a knife, “leaving a thin line of blood on Molly’s neck.”
- Molly fights to escape. “Slank grunted in pain as Molly drove her left heel into his nose, blood spurting instantly, the shock weakening his grip just enough for Molly to yank her right foot free of his grasp.”
- When Peter jumps out of the way of Black Stache’s sword, Black Stache accidentally kills Fighting Prawn, the leader of the island natives. “In fact, [Peter] flew straight up, but so quickly did he launch himself that Stache never really saw it, and thus had no chance to stop the thrust of his sword, which continued right through, plunging deep into the chest of Fighting Prawn.”
- Peter duels with Black Stache. “Peter twisted his body and shot to his right, and as he did he switched his knife to his left hand and slashed downward with it, and it happened too fast for him to see, but he could feel it as he flashed past, feel the knife finding a target, and then, as he shot upward, he heard the scream, and turned to look down upon the vision of Black Stache, holding his sword in his right hand, and looking in horror at the bleeding stump where the left had been.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- Alf, a sailor, often desires grog (rum mixed with water, a popular sailor drink). “Are we done, then? . . . Because I could use some grog.”
- The captain of the Never Land is known to have “never bothered to learn even the basics of seamanship, choosing instead to occupy his time consuming vast quantities of rum.” He is never shown drinking but he appears several times, stumbling around and giving nonsensical orders to the crew.
- A sailor claims a spell was cast on him to make him fall asleep. Another sailor scoffs. “Not hardly. Too much rum, that’s your magic spell.”
- The men on watch “found some rum somewhere” and are “flat on their backs, snoring.”
- Peter plans to put the man on watch to sleep, by spiking his food with rum. “Peter was still not sure exactly what rum was, but he knew two things about it . . . The first was that sailors loved to drink it, and gulped it down whenever they had any. The second was that it made them sleep.” He knows the cook has a barrel of rum because “the cook spent far more time drinking rum than cooking.”
- When pirates board, Slank tells them, “We have a few women . . . And plenty of rum. But if you think there’s treasure on this old scow, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.”
- A man tells Peter that his ship will be traveling for five weeks, “If a storm doesn’t blow you halfway to hell.”
- Slank asks, “What the dickens are you doing?”
- The pirates often call each other names, such as “bag of lice.”
- Idjit is used several times. Captain Stache shouts, “I DON’T WANT YOUR BLEEDIN’ HAND, YOU IDJIT! . . . I WANT THE BLEEDIN’ SPYGLASS.”
- Moron is used once. A pirate says, “You rock-headed, lobster-brained MORON!”
- Peter calls Molly a rat, after she threatens to tattle on him.
- Molly’s father thinks “damn” when he hears pirates are coming, and thinks “damn” again when someone nearly catches him.
- Devil is used a few times. To distract a giant crocodile, Alf shouts, “COME ON, YOU DEVIL!” Slank later calls the mermaids “she-devils.”
- A magic trunk does strange things to people who touch it. When Alf touches it, “Alf could see light now, swirling around his head, colors and sparkles, moving to music, dancing to the sound of . . . bells, yes, it was bells, tiny ones, by the sound of them.”
- Peter sees “a rat floating in midair. Peter blinked his eyes, but there was no question: the rat was suspended in space, as if hanging from a string, but there was no string. As Peter and the guard stared at the rat, it waved its legs slowly, almost languidly, as if swimming, and began to drift toward the doorway.”
- Starcatchers are “a small group of people . . . There have been Starcatchers on Earth for centuries, Peter. Even we don’t know how long. But our task is always the same: to watch for the starstuff, and to get to it, and return it, before it falls into the hands of the Others.” The Others misuse starstuff to gain power.
- Starstuff is golden dust that sometimes falls from the sky as meteors and “has amazing power . . . Wonderful power. Terrible power. It . . . it lets you do things . . . It’s not the same for everybody. And it’s not the same for animals as for people.” Starstuff can heal, can make people fly, can make people strong. Molly explains that larger quantities are more dangerous and can kill a person, or turn a fish into a mermaid, horses into centaurs, and other transformations.
- Starcatchers have learned the language of porpoises, which are extremely intelligent creatures. They work together often to find any starstuff that falls in the ocean. Molly speaks with a porpoise several times, in their language of clicks and squeaks.
- Some fish are turned into mermaids by starstuff. “They were changing. And fast. They still had their tails, though these had grown longer and more graceful. In their midsections, their bodies narrowed and their skin changed abruptly, from rough green scales to a white, fleshy smoothness. . . a distinct head appeared, separating from the trunk by a slender neck. . . The mouth became smaller, and a bulge of flesh started to protrude above it; ears were sprouting on each side of the head.”
- Molly’s father turns a bird into a fairy, to watch over Peter. “The fairy, in a shimmer of gold, sprang from Leonard’s hand and darted to Peter, flitting around his head, filling his ears with her magical bell sounds.”
- Molly tells Peter that there seems to be a larger battle going on in the universe over the possession of starstuff. “‘Just as we have the Others and the Starcatchers here on Earth, there seems to be something similar going on up there.’ [Molly] pointed toward the sky.”
by Morgan Lynn