Summary: Keith and Nelson are close brothers who find themselves working for Mr. Becker and his private zoo of sorts for the summer. The money is great and they make friends with Kim, Mr. Becker’s step-daughter, but overheard conversations alert the brothers to criminal activity and they decide to investigate. When Keith and Nelson find themselves in over their heads, a desperate act will save their lives and change them forever.
Number of Pages: 185
Age Range: 13-15
Review: I wonder if Kevin Major and David Walker ever had a chance to meet when Walker was alive (He died in 1992). Major’s writing is grittier, but I feel like he and Walker would have had a lot in common.
Pirate Rock is an adventure combined with a mystery on the surface, but at its heart it is the tale of two brothers and the summer that changed their lives. Keith and Nelson are opposites (see last quote) – but they are the best of friends and Nelson follows his older brother’s lead without resentment.
I have to admit I felt bad for the female characters though. Keith and Nelson’s mum is purposely left out of the loop, as is Kim at times, and Mrs. Becker appears to be pretty vapid. I did not enjoy the boys’ comments about the silliness of women even though I did think they were said with love, and mostly I had to remind myself that this book was published in 1969 and reflects the attitudes of that time.
In that respect, I was hooked. This is an early Canadian teen novel and I found it interesting that it seemed to be more like a children’s mystery book with a dash of young adult themes thrown in. Perhaps that is why the publisher thought it would work for grades 6 to 10. Reading it is like participating in an archeological dig, uncovering a piece of teen literature history.
The boys’ reaction to the crux of the novel was thought-provoking because I didn’t expect it. I thought Walker did an excellent job of portraying honest reactions, and I also appreciated that he surrounded Keith and Nelson with understanding, compassionate adults willing to help guide them on their path to adulthood after tragedy. I enjoyed Walker’s exploration of what makes a man.
Kim is left without support and guidance, but she proves to have spunk and takes matters into her own hands, and the gentle interest between her and Keith is subtle yet well-developed.
I’d recommend Pirate Rock more for Canadian teen literature buffs, but it has potential to be enjoyed by experienced, mid to younger male teen readers.
“‘That is good,’ Mr. Becker said quietly. ‘Never to lose one’s self respect. Never to be held in thrall, never to be slave to any man or anything. So much I would wish you in your lives.'” – Mr. Becker from Pirate Rock by David Walker, page 59
“‘There you go. You have them in the hollow of your hand. And your father on his silly fishing trip – he should never have gone, he knew something that he wouldn’t tell me, but off like a selfish schoolboy after stupid salmon, couldn’t miss out on that sacred cow, oh never. And look at me, half mad with worry, one wretched mother against a secret society, that’s what you are, a secret society.’
‘We aren’t, Mum. And don’t you worry. Everything’s all right.’ But they were a secret society, and everything was not all right, and Mum was nearly crying.
‘I didn’t mean it about you telling lies. I’m sorry Keith. Please forgive me for saying those things. Worried, though, so worried.'” – conversation between Keith and Nelson’s mum and Keith from Pirate Rock by David Walker, page 111
“‘On the contrary,’ George Petrie said. ‘Nelson understands it very well. Mine honour is my life; both grow in one, eh, Keith?’
‘Take honour from me, and my life is done.'” – conversation between George and Keith from Pirate Rock by David Walker, page 146
“‘There are fences and there are fences,’ she said.
‘How do you mean, Mum?’
‘There was the one we all hated, and that came down. But you’ve built another, haven’t you?’
‘We just don’t want to go there,’ Nelson said. After the first days they had never talked about it to one another, not to Dad and Mum, not to anyone. Shut it off, you could forget about it.” – conversation between Keith and Nelson’s mum, Keith and Nelson from Pirate Rock by David Walker, page 174
“Their mother went through to the living room to watch them go – the tall and the short – the vague one, the practical one – the artistic, the strong – linked brothers.” – from Pirate Rock by David Walker, page 177
Pirate Rock by David Walker is published by Collins Clear-Type Press (1969).