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I was legitimately shocked at how much I liked this book. From what I’d hear about it, it seemed like one of those that was only written to teach kids about a time period. Then, the first few chapters blaze through about 10 years of Nat’s life, only touching on a few details. I thought to myself, This is going to be terrible.

But it wasn’t! (Benefits of going into a book with really low expectations: one is often pleasantly surprised.)

Nat Bowditch is a math-loving Salem boy who lives through the Revolutionary War. His father pulls him out of school (which devastates him) at age 12 because they need him to help earn money. (Although, if the dad would stop drinking, they wouldn’t need so much money…) But Nat bounces back and begins to teach himself in the evenings after he’s done with his work. He teaches himself math and sciences, and eventually… Latin, French, and Spanish, too.

I love that he’s intellectual, inquisitive, and self-taught. And that, despite losing so many people he loves to sickness or sea, he just keeps going. He’s a trudger: he knows how to trudge through the tough seasons of life. And I also love that he takes the time to teach his sailors when he signs on as second mate. We see the power of education: the captain says that he’s never had less trouble with a crew than when Nat teaches his sailors math (so they can do navigation themselves).

A few quotes to mull over:

  • “She knows how to be happy. Being happy takes a lot of practices, doesn’t it?”
  • “Human problems aren’t like mathematics, Nat. Every problem doesn’t have just one answer; sometimes you get several answers – and you don’t know which is the right one.”
  • “[The sailors] were standing a little straighter, and working a little more smartly. It did things to a man, Nat thought, to find out he had a brain.”

Overall, an excellent read!