Review: Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott
Title: Ship of Souls
Author: Elliott, Zetta
Length: 132 pages
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher / Year: AmazonEncore / 2012
Source: From the author for review.
Why I Read It: I follow the author online and enjoy talking with her about diversity and publishing, among other interesting topics. For these reasons, I expected good things from the book.
Date Read: 28/12/11
I have to start off with a quick disclaimer, something I’ve really never had to do in this way before. I admire and respect Ms. Elliot and dedicatedly follow her site. I’ve chatted with her a few times online about diversity and especially diversity in Canadian literature. This is the first time I’ve actually read a book by an author with whom I’ve previously spoken with more than an occasional email or tweet, and I know that many like to know this in advance of a review. That being said, going into this book with such expectations made me read even closer than I would normally do, looking specifically for more from the book. (And such close reading didn’t disappoint!)
Ship of Souls tells the story of Dmitri, an eleven-year-old boy dealing with the loss of his mother and now living with an older white lady. Dmitri loves the park, bird watching, and math. He feels like an outcast in school, having been home schooled until now, and his hobbies don’t help. When Dmitri finds an injured bird in the park, he takes it home, and it turns out that this bird is more than it appears. Nuru, who has appeared as a bird, is a life force who wants Dmitri to help guide the souls of the dead and save them from ghost soldiers from the American Revolution.
The main characters in this book include Dmitri himself, Hakeem, a Muslim basketball player, and Nyla, a strong and independent girl who is frustrated by the frequent moves she has to make with her military family. The three characters form a bond and work together through the book showing the unexpected ways that friendship can blossom when we let it, and showing the importance of moving beyond stereotypes.
All three characters face stereotypes and their characters come off the page to show us how wrong those stereotypes are. All three are fully realized and rounded, and the reader becomes emotionally invested in them, while also learning more about different places, monuments, and religions. Personally I especially liked how Nyla was portrayed. She was allowed to be flawed, to get angry, to be strong, all while still being a girl and with no damaged past to ‘excuse it’, simply as part of being a fully realized human.
I don’t often read middle grade books, and so this was a newer experience for me, but one that I enjoyed. I look forward to a day when all books can contain such a diversity of characters without it being such a huge and exciting thing, when it can just be normal and expected. If you like middle grade books, I recommend this one. Many people have been talking lately about wanting more books for boys, with male main characters and full of action and adventure, and this book definitely fits that bill. Additionally, if you want a book to encourage children to expand the horizons of their world, acknowledging and allowing others to populate it and learning more about them, share this book with them.