Review: The Extraordinary Voyage of Katy Willacott

Written by Sharon Gosling
Cover Illustration Kristina Kister
Published by Little Tiger

The Extraordinary Voyage of Katy Willacott is a truly incredible adventure brimming with discovery, danger and daring:  a story which captured me completely as I was swept into an unforgettable journey by the most remarkable young girl as she fights against society’s expectations and chases fallen stars …

It’s 1879, and Katy Willacott dreams of becoming an adventurer like her heroine, journalist and explorer, Fran Brocklehurst.  Imagine her excitement when she gets the opportunity to meet Fran when she visits Kew Gardens to interview Katy’s mother who is a botanist there.  Their meeting is rudely interrupted by naturalist, Sir Thomas Derby who wants to move the herbarium to the soon-to-be-opened Natural History Museum. He displays a rude, condescending and sexist attitude towards women stating that there is no place for females in the sciences and that botany is only acceptable as a hobby.

As if this wasn’t terrible enough, her own father seems to hold similar views if not expressed in such a rude manner.  He works for Sir Thomas at the British Museum and, when he is offered the opportunity to lead his first expedition, Katy is keen to help on the dig.  She is left angry when her father refuses to allow her to go telling her that she is too young; however, Katy knows it has more to do with the fact that she is female than age.

After her father and brother leave, her grandfather shows Katy a newspaper article which reveals that Sir Thomas is undertaking an expedition to Brazil to recover meteorites for the British Museum.  Katy has a keen interest in sailing, nature and astronomy so cannot resist the opportunity to follow her adventurer’s heart …

So begins the most incredible adventure as Katy disguises herself as a cabin boy and gains employment aboard the Alerte on its voyage to Brazil, and what a voyage across the seas it is:  a voyage filled with danger, discoveries and mystery, but also one in which Katy forms friendships and proves herself a worthy, capable and courageous sailor, earning the respect of the captain and crew. 

Once the Alerte arrives in Brazil, Katy soon finds herself on an exciting expedition into the rainforest, along with some new companions, and on the trail of an elusive meteorite.  But the jungle is a dangerous place when there are those intent on destruction, hunting and plundering …  Katy may have adventured into the rainforest to find a meteorite, but she discovers so much more …

This really is an extraordinary, action-packed and breath-taking adventure which transported me into the natural wonders of the rainforest alongside those who appreciated its beauty.  I loved learning more about the flora and fauna from Katy and her new friends.  I don’t want to go into any more detail about the plot for fear of spoilers, but suffice to say that this is a story that will astonish, astound and amaze in equal measure:  a truly engrossing, unputdownable and thought-provoking adventure.

There is so much scope for discussion with the powerful themes within the story including the treatment of indigenous people, colonisation, exploitation of natural resources, trophy hunting, the acquisition of artefacts by museums, and classism and gender inequality in Victorian society.

The world is full of extraordinary women doing extraordinary things.

And I just have to finish with Katy!  What an extraordinary heroine embarking on an extraordinary adventure!  She is curious, empathetic and perceptive with the strength, courage and tenacity to follow her own path, and to learn and change from her experiences.  She is not prepared to accept the place she is expected to take in society as a female; instead, she follows her heart and achieves more than she had dreamed of …a truly exceptional heroine, and a character who offers such empowerment for others.

A stunning adventure of courage, hope and friendship across the sea and into the wonders and dangers of the rainforest, perfect for young adventurers of 9+.

Thank you to Little Tiger for a copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

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