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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hidden, written by Donna Jo Napoli. A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster. 2014. $21.99 ages 12 and up

"The very worst has happened. He has come back to town: Alf. Alf of the eyes the color of rain - though I have not seen them again; it is only my memory that tells me this, and who can trust the memory of a girl who has witnessed the horrors of the past week? He apparently traveled by sea to Ribe, going all the way north around the tip of Jutland, then all the way south again."

In her companion novel to Hush (2014), Donna Jo Napoli introduces the younger sister of Melkorka, the Irish princess who was taken by Russian slavers in that first book. Brigid was there, jumped overboard leaving her sister to follow her, lost her and now spends her days and even years determined to find her again.

It is a tale of survival that is based on the legendary life of the first Norse female pirate Alfhild. We follow Brigid through the years as she lives first with one adoptive family, and then with another - all the while searching for any small bit of news about her sister.

Times for women are very different in the 10rh century; Brigid breaks tradition and sets out on her own with only her sister in mind. While life is arduous and often violent, Brigid lives hers guided by a love for her sister and with kindness and compassion. As I read of the grim lives that people led, I often stopped to ponder how difficult it must have been for so many.

Brigid is a girl with a mind of her own; she is not afraid to say what she feels, or to think back on the comfortable life she led as part of the Irish royalty. Nothing gets in the way of her quest to find her beloved sister. She will take any risk to move forward in her search, leaving loved ones and stability behind her. As she moves forward, she becomes skilled at those things that will hold her in good stead for her wanderings.

Knowing it will be less dangerous to convince people of a Norse rather than Irish ancestry, she introduces herself as Alfhild and assumes that role throughout her travels. Slowing the pace in the middle gave me a chance to breathe more freely as I considered the dangers that she often faces. Growing up takes time and patience on the part of both the girl and her audience. But, her transformation from young girl to bold pirate, and her many perilous adventures amp up the reading making it difficult to put it down. A rewarding ending will please those who embark on this adventure, and encourages the idea that one should never give up hope when facing obstacles to the goals we set.

Careful research is familiar to Ms. Napoli's fans. End matter helps with perspective and the history that inspired the story's origins. A glossary, an author's note and a bibliography add context.

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