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Title: The Black Pearl
Author: Scott O’Dell
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Genre: MG Historical Fiction
Format: Paperback Edition
A young man, Ramon Salazar, recently turned 16 is made a partner in his father’s pearl business. He learns to grade and buy and sell the pearls the small fleet his father owns brings in each trip. However, what he really wants is to go diving with the fleet. His father allows him to come out with the fleet but only as a handler, not a diver.
The best pearl diver in the fleet is jealous of the opportunities that Ramon has and constantly needles him about not being a diver. This “Sevillano” claims to come from Spain and spins stories of all the exploits he has done. Eventually, it gets to Ramon and when the fleet makes a week long trip, he heads out to an Indian diver and begs him to teach him. Ramon learns how to be a diver and is shown a cave where Manta Diablo supposedly lives. The Indian tells him to not dive in the cave, as Manta Diablo will come after anyone who takes something from him.
Ramon can’t resist the lure and gets a huge clam which gives up a huge perfect “black” pearl. The Indian warns him that he is now cursed by Manta Diablo. Ramon heads home and gives the pearl to his father to show that he is a great diver, and to get back at the Sevillano for all his jibes. The father haggles with the local merchants and in a fit of pique at their stinginess, gives the pearl to the local Roman Catholic Church.
The next week the fleet is destroyed by a huge storm and only the Sevillano survives. This convinces Ramon that the pearl is indeed cursed and he steals it back from the church to take back to Manta Diablo’s cave. The Sevillano catches him and forces him to go to Mexico City where they can sell it for a huge fortune.
On their way, they are overtaken by a huge manta ray. After several incidents, the Sevillano harpoons the manta and eventually jumps on it to knife it to death. A rope wraps around him and he and the manta plunge into the depths never to be seen again. Ramon rows back to his village, returns the pearl to the church and realizes that he has grown up.
I had read and bought this back in elementary school at a book fair I believe. I enjoyed it a lot as a kid so I was kind of hesitant to dive into again and potentially ruin it. Kind of like how I got fed up with Lucky Starr by the end of the series. Some childrens books just aren’t meant for adults. However, since it was only 96 pages I figured I could pitch on in and rip through it at lunch times. Which is what I did.
What a great book!
This is the kind of adventure story that can capture the imagination of a young boy. O’Dell knows how to write for a youthful audience without churning out simplistic slop. Ramon deals with some huge issues and O’Dell gently guides the reader along that journey and makes a youngster think about what might change in their life and how would they respond? I love, Love, LOVE the fact that at no point is Ramon an angst-ridden whiny baby. O’Dell doesn’t buy into the lie that young people have to be coddled and that anything “tough” will destroy them. He shows that THROUGH adversity is how a man is forged. Phrack, it is refreshing to see that in a middle grade book.
Keeping in mind the target audience, I loved this story. O’Dell writes a character that inspires the reader instead of pandering to them. It is no wonder that O’Dell won so many awards and honorable mentions back in his heyday.
First 5star review of the year. While probably not a real contender for best book of the year, I think that a 96 page story about a 16 year old young man that can inspire a 40 year old like this deserves some attention. Ramon’s quiet fortitude and steady action is what is needed in more books today.