I have just finished The True Adventures of Charley Darwin which is coming out on Jan. 1, 2009. Carolyn Meyer, whose main genre is wonderful historical fiction, doesn't disappoint with this one. We are introduced to a motherless 8 year-old Charley in the early chapters and we see how he is spirited away to Shrewsbury School, a boarding school for boys, where Charley's brother Erasmus is already safely tucked away. Ironically, the school is not far from Charley's home and his doctor father and many sisters, and Charley often secretly runs the entire distance home to visit his doting sisters.
Who would have ever known Charles Darwin was a poor student? He hated being told what to read and write and he harbored a special abhorrence for the Greek and Latin he was meant to study. Instead, he found friends to run in nature with him so he could nourish his love of natural science and history. Eventually, Charley convinces his father he isn't a great student and his father suggests Charles become a clergyman! Before taking Holy Orders, Charley is offered space on The Beagle, a ship where he can sail for two years exploring the parts of the natural world he is so drawn to. With his father's hesitant blessing, Charley boards The Beagle, which turns into a five-year journey. The novel ends shortly after his return and his marriage to a cousin.
One of the intriguing pieces of this novel is that Meyer chose to tell it in a first person journal, which makes the reader definitely feel part of the historical plot. I found this book fascinating because I love historical fiction and I had limited knowledge about the early life of Charles Darwin. However, I think it would have limited appeal with middle grade readers. The plot sort of plods along with not much action except that Darwin knew his passion at a young age and pretty much eschewed all of the formal education he received in his privileged life.
Because I did love the slow, romantic story of how young Charley Darwin found his way into our history textbooks, I am going to give this ARC to my resident 8th grade historical fiction reviewer- I'll call her Michelle. I'm interested to see what an 8th grader has to say about this hovel and I will publish her response at a later date.
Post reading, I find that young Charley as a character has stayed with me for several days after finishing the story. Additionally, I found it interesting that he was so pampered by his father; I didn't know Darwin came from a wealthy family. The fact that his father tried to convince Charles to become part of the church seems so humorous to me right now! The church and Darwin have been at odds since his Origin of Species was published! At least he told his wife before marrying her that his views didn't really mesh with those of the church.