STOWAWAY is the fictionalized story of the amazing adventures of a real-life boy named Nicholas Young. Only a few facts are known about the real Nicholas Young: 1) he really did stow away on Captain Cook's voyage around the world when he was 11 years old; 2) when he was discovered, Captain Cook commissioned him into the Royal Navy and made him assistant to the ship's surgeon aboard the Endeavour 3) he was the first person on Captain Cook's ship to spot New Zealand; 4) when he grew up, he explored the Antarctic. From these sketchy but fascinating facts, Hesse spins a thoroughly researched yarn, filling in all the blanks to write a complete picture of Captain Cook's voyage, through the eyes of young Nicholas, from August 1768 to July 1771.
Nicholas is an educated boy who can read and write. But he runs away from Reverend Smythe's school because the reverend is a cruel man. Then Nicholas's father apprentices him to a butcher, who beats the boy. So Nicholas runs away again. He bribes three seamen to smuggle him aboard a ship ready to set sail, which turns out to be the Endeavour, and he hides in a small landing boat aboard ship. It's cramped and smelly, and even though it's covered, it is not weatherproof. Nicholas's only company, except for the sailors who helped him, are the goat, pigs, and chickens penned nearby. But Nicholas sticks it out for weeks, until it's safe to show himself without being left at port somewhere and returned to England.
When he makes his presence known, Nicholas is immediately put to good use. Aboard ship, the captain is the only law. And the work is hard. Life is not easy for the lowest one in the pecking order, which is now Nicholas. Captain Cook is a fair and just captain, but there are endless opportunities for petty tyrannies. When the midshipman, Bootie, gets blamed for not knowing that Nicholas was hiding aboard ship, for example, Bootie treats Nicholas cruelly and beats him. But Nicholas keeps his mouth shut and works hard. Despite the stress and strain, he enjoys life aboard ship. He is fascinated by the work of the gentleman scholars aboard, including Mr. Banks, a botanist, and his assistants. They study and paint every fish and plant they can find. Mr. Banks takes an interest in Nicholas, and the ship's surgeon is also very pleased with Nicholas's work.
As the Endeavour sails on, Nicholas sees many strange places, including an island which the English call King George's Land. Nicholas makes friends with a native boy there, who calls the island OTahiti. They Endeavour sails around the eastern coast of New Holland, which no European has ever explored before. Captain Cook makes careful charts for the benefit of those who will come after them. When sailing around the world, however, all sorts of adventures are just around the corner, and not all of them are pleasant. The crew weathers terrible storms and meets hostile natives. And one place they visit, Batavia, is where the crew contracts a sickness that quickly comes aboard the Endeavour. As the ship surgeon's boy, Nicholas helps care for diseased, cramping, and dying sailors. Man after man dies and is buried at sea.
Nicholas spends three years aboard one of history's most famous ships, an eyewitness participant in a once-in-a-lifetime voyage. He grows from a boy to a young man. What does he learn about himself? What will he decide to do when the voyage is over? Reading STOWAWAY will bring your history books alive. And you will want to know what happens to Nicholas.
Reviewed by Tamara Penny on November 1, 2000