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The Strange family has just suffered an unspeakable loss. With the passing of son and brother, Merlin, the Strange family is struggling to reconcile such a fatal blow to not only their family’s infrastructure, but learning how to cope with the loss individually as well. Jenna, Merlin’s youngest sister, has taken to mischief to ease her pain. She has become the most notorious prankster, placing a rift between herself and her sister, and exasperating her parents. Although they personally don’t believe in such things, the parents are writers on ghost activity and other paranormal happenings, and are headed on assignment to the Wayfarer Inn, where it is rumored that the ghost of Blackbeard has chosen to haunt. Not far from the cove where he fought his last battle aboard The Queen Ann’s Revenge, it seemed plausible to the masses that this particular inn was a logical place for the spirit of Blackbeard to reside. Jenna and Reyna’s parents saw this opportunity to take their fractured family away from all the reminders of their brokenness, and into an environment that was so vastly different from their own in the hopes of making progress towards the mending of what remains. However, Jenna has no intention of slowing down her pranking. In fact, she plans to turn things up to warp speed. That is, until she meets some of the other children staying at the Inn.
Right after executing one of her finest accomplishments in the form of a paint ball grenade which detonated on the desired target that is Reyna, Jenna found herself wandering the halls of the Wayfarer Inn. Soon she spots several children in the library calling out numbers to one another with a myriad of papers clutched in each of their hands. Her curiosity piqued, she enquires as to what they were doing? Soon it was explained that they were the members of The Secret Letter Society. Each year that the children and their families came to visit, the kids that comprised The Secret Letter Society would search high and low in all the nooks and crannies scattered about the Inn. Their purpose for this search was to yield all the letters that were left behind by previous tenets recording their accounts with what is to be believed as Blackbeard’s ghost. Some were left recently, while others were left hundreds of years ago. The Secret Letter Society was formed so that they could decipher and compare all of these letters with the hope of finding Blackbeard’s missing treasure, but each year, they failed to find all the pieces that would lead them to the treasure.
However, after a much unexpected encounter occurred while Jenna continued her very own tour of the Inn, she found a letter in the wall of the cellar that had yet to be seen by any of the other children. It appeared that this letter was by far the oldest of them all, and because of the years past, parts were very difficult to discern. But one thing was very clear: The signature. The letter was very clearly signed by a man by the name of Edward Teach. While that meant nothing to Jenna, the other kids knew better. That was Blackbeard the pirate’s original name! They had finally found the key to unlock all of the clues in which to find Blackbeard’s treasure, and it was most certainly an adventure that Blackbeard himself would have envied. Each member of the group armed with their own individual strengths, they tarried on in search of the treasure, but what awaited them was something so beyond their imagination that they even had trouble believing their very own eyes.
Scott does a brilliant job of painting a portrait that combines folklore that we are all familiar with, through the lens of a young teenage girl who is just discovering this for the first time. Scott blends what we all think we know with the possibilities that we may not know the whole story with such agility that we the reader are left questioning our original stance on the matter as well. Through Jenna’s journey of self-discovery, we are able to go on a journey with her, a journey that opens our minds to endless possibilities. Scott’s imagination takes us through so many intricately designed places and scenarios with fluidity and purpose. Each event explains the one preceding it, and there is no confusion as to what is going on in the story. The twists and turns in which she takes us are anything but predictable, and it was such a joy to feel genuine shock when certain events went the opposite way from what would be expected. This is a story that takes you back to your youth and reminds you that everything is possible if you allow it to be, and it was a delight to have that spark of imagination that I had as a child be reignited by the familiar glow found in the hearts and gumption she places in her characters.
I also appreciated her theme displayed through Jenna of feeling misunderstood. Throughout the book, we see that her acting out is the result of having lost her brother, but if you look closer it is also because she thinks it’s the only way she can get attention. Her brother was the one person who understood her, and now that person is gone. So she continues to grapple with her sense of identity and worth. She wants to be seen for who she is but she isn’t really even sure who that is anymore. But as the story progresses, she sees that she is not the only one who feels alone. The Secret Letter Society houses the likes of all sorts of misfits, and they discover that they magically all fit together perfectly. Even Blackbeard himself was misunderstood and portrayed in the wrong light until they found the truth. At the revelation that perception can be changed by the truth which is only brought to light through bravery, Jenna realizes that she will never be alone.
I appreciated that Scott was able to take a well-known legend and breathe new life into it. I also loved the innocents in which she instilled in her characters. Never was there a hint of cynicism or traits of being jaded. Every main character had this beautiful innocent optimism that carried them through even the most stressful of circumstances. Reading about characters like this was a nice change of pace from the books full of paranoid characters. This book is all about the inner child, fighting for yourself, and realizing you can overcome anything set in your way, even if that’s a cave full of booby traps set by pirates past. I give this book 4 out of 4 stars. I think that young tweens and teenagers will love this book and that Scott will experience great success with it.
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