YA Review: Young Eagle Rising

Title: Young Eagle Rising
Author: Ellie Joyce

We’re thrilled to be taking part in the Young Eagle Rising Blog Tour! Thank you to Rachel’s Random Resources for including our review.

William Baxter is thirteen when he leaves Ireland with his family to begin a new life in the colonies of North America. He doesn’t want to go – in 1735, leaving on a ship means saying goodbye to everyone you leave behind, and he doesn’t want to leave his grandmother or his aunt.

The three-month voyage sees him learning new skills, making new friends among the passengers and crew, and deciding that he much prefers life on dry land. By the time the boat reaches Philadelphia, he is excited to begin his new adventure, and the family sets out in search of land to claim.

As their second winter approaches, the family is settled in their new life, harvesting crops and preparing for the cold weather. But a tragic misunderstanding with a native tribe leaves William alone, and determined to return to the life he knew in Ireland.

His journey back to Philadelphia is full of adventure, culture shocks, and the engaging characters he turns to for help. His experiences teach him more about the New World as he comes into contact with settlers, explorers, slaves, cruel slave owners, native tribes, and the deceitful leaders of the Pennsylvania Colony.

William is an engaging and intelligent narrator with a distinctive voice, drawing the reader into the story with his vivid descriptions of people and events. The relationships he builds as he travels feel warm and respectful, reflecting his own personality. His confidence, resourcefulness, and willingness to learn allow him to overcome the difficulties he faces, and it is a joy to follow him on his journey.

Young Eagle Rising is an exciting story in the style of a classic boys’ adventure tale. There’s no romance, but plenty of genuine friendship, and most of the important characters are male. It reads like a YA Treasure Island, with the narrator piecing together the reality of his new home as he travels through it. While William’s initial contact with native people is violent, reflecting the racist and simplistic ‘Cowboys and Indians’ attitudes of the early settlers, the author is careful to present an alternative view through William’s experiences with the peaceful Lenape Nation later in the book.

As someone who has studied First Nation (Native American) experiences in North America, I appreciated this depiction. However, the story also features local tribes who are violent towards the Lenape, and their conflict is presented in very black-and-white terms. I found this surprising and uncomfortable in the context of William’s developing understanding, and I can’t help but think that this depiction might feel significantly racist to present-day members of the ‘enemy’ tribe.

It’s a small complaint, and overall the author is very careful to emphasise the complexity of life in the New World. History is often simplified and sanitised, but through his story William – and the reader – experience some of the subtleties, tragedies, and misunderstandings inherent in the aggressive colonisation of already occupied land. Reading this book in a class or book club would be an inspiring way to begin a conversation about colonialism, racism, slavery, and the way history is taught.

Four stars: recommended. A great friendship-based adventure story, but I can’t overlook the problematic depiction of some of the First Nation characters.

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Check out the other reviews, appearing over the next few days.

What’s it about?
Ireland 1735. Thirteen-year-old William Baxter has a grandmother with peculiar powers – so peculiar he believes she must be a witch. Taking this secret with him, he reluctantly sails with his family to the New World and the promise of a better life.

But Pennsylvania proves to be a savage, unforgiving place rife with warring tribes, slavery and dangerous animals. When William’s life suddenly takes a terrifying turn, he is thrust headlong into a battle for survival. Consumed with hatred for those responsible, he desperately wants to return to Ireland, but the coast is one hundred miles away and the trail runs through native territory. Alone and frightened, he sets out on what becomes the journey of a lifetime, determined to survive and have his revenge.

Young Eagle Rising is a coming-of-age story, a mix of fantasy, history, adventure and the enduring love of an old Irish witch.

Who is the author?
Ellie Joyce was born and raised in Belfast. She holds an A.L.A.M. (Dip. Acting) from The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She and her husband have four children and live in Leicestershire. Young Eagle Rising is her debut novel. See more at elliejoyceauthor.com.

You can order your copy from Waterstones, Book Guild, Foyles, Bookshop.org, Amazon, WHSmith and Book Depository.