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This past weekend I had the fun experience of being able to attend the Young Adult Literature Convention in London. Organized by Book Trust, a reading charity, the convention featured booths selling (and giving away!) books, author panels, author signings, workshops, and opportunities to meet and interact with literary agents. I went for all three days with my husband who, being an author, is also very interested in these things and is the reason I heard about the convention in the first place. We really had a blast. I managed to get through it with restraint and only got four new books (two of them I had signed, woohoo!), but also a free t-shirt, a few tote bags, TONS of book sample chapters, badges, a key chain, and a lots of free candy.

Here are my impressions in pictures.

The reading corner - a lovely place to sit and rest from ALL THE THINGS
From the reading corner
More book stalls!
The Gollancz and Atom stands
Book swap!
Meeting Cassandra Clare
LOTS of free sample chapters
Penguin Platform booth
Wearing sunglasses for Finding Audrey

Agent author talk with Molly Ker Hawn (Bent Agency)
and Kat Ellis (author of Blackfin Sky)
The Sir Terry and Me panel, talking about how the great Sir Terry Pratchett inspired each of them in different ways.
Derek Landy, Patrick Ness, Frances Hardinge, and Imogen Russell Williams
Lilies in the Terry Pratchett corner
After-party cupcakes!
The best goose anyone has ever drawn me

I love pirate books. So when I got this book from my husband for Valentine's Day I was quite excited to read it. I knew it wasn't *exactly* a pirate book, but was hoping it would have a bit of pirate-like adventure and a lot of Daniel Handler's fantastic sense of humor. Unfortunately, it really didn't have either.

I realize that books written as Daniel Handler are not meant to be for the same audience as when he writes as Lemony Snicket, however, even taking that into consideration I really disliked this book and every character in it.

We Are Pirates is really two parallel stories. One is about Gwen, a teenager who wants to be in control of her own life; the other is about her father, a radio producer whose career has stagnated. Although the stories overlap, they don't really show any cohesive intertwining. One could easily cut out either story without the other changing at all. I think this disconnectedness doesn't help the book.

The plot of Gwen's story is that she decides, along with Errol, an old man who has Alzheimer's and a love of pirate stories, to run away from home, commandeer a ship and sail out into San Francisco Bay. To prove her dedication to her new pirate cause, she plans to attack other ships and take their supplies. She pulls a few other people into her plot and carries it out in a surprisingly bloody fashion, starting with the violent murder of two people.

Phil's story is basically circling around how much his career has stagnated, how he continues to screw up everything, and his very cringe-worthy relationship with his secretary--who he might want to sleep with.

There is a very strongly developed theme of powerlessness throughout the book. All the main characters (in fact, the secondary characters as well) are powerless in different ways--Gwen because she is a teenager and has no independence from her parents, Errol because he has lost his memory and cannot take care of himself, Phil because he doesn't understand why his career has gone downhill, and thus cannot fix it. Each character tries to take control of his or her situation in different  ways, but ultimately they screw things up even more. Of all the aspects of this book, this is the one I appreciate; it was well fleshed out and each person's struggle felt very real.

However, there was still no redemption or hope. I think if Handler had taken a different direction and actually had given the characters some success, or at least a moment of realization that there might be a different way to take control, it would have had some redeeming value. Stories do not have to have happy endings, but they should at least have some redeeming value to them. We Are Pirates was depressing throughout and ended on an even lower note. Gwen and her accomplices get away with murder, theft, and destruction (for which the most vulnerable of their group is blamed) and then life goes back to its mediocre hopelessness.

Beyond plot, I also have complaints about the writing itself. The narrator throughout the book is extremely unclear. There is some severe head hopping that is very disorienting to the reader. Sometimes this can be used as a technique to jar the reader into paying closer attention or to involve the reader in the chaos of a scene, but in this case it was merely annoying and made the story more difficult to follow. Another tactic that felt very gimmicky was that many times throughout the book the narrator refers to the story as if it were in the distant past, using phrases such as,"during this era of American history," and "at the time this story takes place." Yet, at the beginning of the book it seems the story is being told only a few weeks after the events happened.

While We Are Pirates wouldn't put me off reading Handler books in the future, I absolutely wouldn't recommend spending time reading this one unless you like selfish characters whose lives are on a downward spiral.

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