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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*The Black Pearl* by Scott O'Dell- young adult book review

Also by Scott O'Dell:

Island of the Blue Dolphins
The Black Pearl
by Scott O'Dell
Grades 7+ 144 pages Houghton Mifflin September 1967 Hardcover    

When I was a little girl, Saturday mornings meant trips to the Wake Forest Public Library. There my brothers, my sister and I would disperse, heading each to his or her favorite spot to choose story adventures as Mommy and Daddy headed off to find literary diversions of their own. It was as simple as this: the doors to the library were gates to anything we could imagine, and each book cover was a portal to a whole new world. On one of those trips, I discovered a blue-green ocean world that offered treasure-seeking danger and delicious cultural perspective. That book was the Newbery Honor-winning The Black Pearl by Scott O'Dell. Recently, I reread The Black Pearl with my son to show him what I know about becoming an adult: that true adulthood is proven in facing your monsters with grace, that fear is okay but should be coupled with belief in yourself, that self-awareness comes in moments like pearls to be shown and described.

At the center of this tale beats the heart of Ramon Salazar, a youth living in La Paz, Baja, California, where he works in the pearl-diving industry with his father. Telling his tale with the retrospective insight of a sixteen-year-old, no longer a child but seemingly not yet a man, Ramon understands a great deal of the mysteries that are manipulated by parents to keep their children both safe and young. One of these mysteries is the legend of Manta Diablo, a living breathing manta ray whose story is shared with the youth of Ramon's community through a variety of descriptions from grandparents and mothers.

Like other monsters before, Manta Diablo is described in mythic terms. Though various descriptions are possible for such bogeys, Ramon shares only his mother's initially, telling us that Manta Diablo's "seven eyes" are "the color of ambergris and shaped like a sickle moon," and he has "seven rows of teeth..., long as [a] Toledo knife."

From the very beginning, though, we realize that the story Ramon plans to tell will be different from those his mother and her neighbors tell "to frighten bad children." Sequestered to their very separate, very domestic spheres, these women and old people describe a monster who must be called to them; as long as that is true, Ramon and his friends are safe. El Diablo is no landlubber monster to be called from the closet.

Indeed, the story Ramon tells is different in nearly every way as his research requires taking a literal plunge as he seeks to impress his father in their pearl-diving business. Ramon is on a quest for a treasure as legendary as the monster he has been reared to fear: he seeks the mythic Pearl of Heaven, the kind of pearl of which every man in his pearl-diving family/community dreams.

Ramon's journey is the kind that makes a beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking story, the kind of story that teaches a child to read not only with her eyes and mind, but also with her heart and soul. Such stories elicit a sort of coming of age just in the telling, as the child gains insight into emotions, duties, and intrinsic truth. Written for young adult readers, O’Dell’s The Black Pearl is one of those rare books that engages readers of almost any age. The Black Pearl is fun to read to young school-aged children or with preadolescent children, enjoyable for its intended young adult audience, and a pleasant, exciting revisiting to adventure reading and coming-of-age reminiscing for parents, teachers, and other adults.

Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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