Cracking the Cover Book Blog Review - Ghost Messages

The world became a smaller place in the mid-1800s. After years of fundraising and technological development a trans-Atlantic telegraph cable was laid across the floor of the Atlantic Ocean connection Europe and North America, and expediting communication between the two. The time it took to deliver a message went from at least 10 days to a matter of minutes.

Laying some 2300 nautical miles of copper wire was not easy and it took multiple attempts before success. "Ghost Messages," a book for middle readers, takes a fictionalized look at one of those attempts.

Thirteen-year-old Ailish is a young fortune-teller who wants nothing more than a sober father and a roof over her head. Her father has plans to move the two of them to Newfoundland once the trans-Atlantic cable is laid, but when a scoundrel steals the family fortune and leaves her Da for dead, it looks like those plans won't pan out.

Ailish discovers her injured father and impulsively sets out to find the ruffian. She follows him to the docks and onboard the Great Eastern. Ailish plans to confront her father's attacker before the ship sets sail, but time runs out and she's trapped on board.

The Great Eastern is the ship laying the trans-Atlantic cable, and it's on a strict schedule. There's no way for Ailish to get off, she must pretend to be a boy. But Ailish isn't on her own. She often gets help from a pale young boy named Davy, who knows all about the ship, but never copes up on deck.

With the help of Davy and a little luck, Ailish may be able to recover her family's treasure, but at what cost?

Part mystery, part ghost story, part adventure, "Ghost Messages" is a fast-paced and compelling drama. Author Jacqueline Guest has done a fine job inserting a fictional character into a historical event already filled with high drama.

Looking at the laying of the trans-Atlantic telegraph cable through the eyes of a child also makes history more accessible. Physical descriptions of how things work and what they look like are substituted for technical terms, which could be confusing and possibly bog down the story.

Young readers will identify with Ailish's bravery and also her fears. Though she is from a different time and place, her experiences are relatable and highly readable.

At 184 pages, "Ghost Messages" is a short and fast read. Guest's author's note, which looks at some historial tidbits, adds depth to the reader's overall experience. And the inclusion of a glossary of nautical terms and the Morse code alphabet at the end is a nice touch.

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