Book Review: “Captain Grey” by Avi (1993)

“Where’s the freedom on this earth? … All the men I’ve ever seen are slaves to other men, to governments, or such. The only man who’s truly free is the one who’s part of nothing and wars against the world.”

Though I own several of his interesting-looking youth fiction, I’d never read Avi before until I picked up Captain Grey. Finding some time to read while being laid up for a short time this year, I dug in and was pleasantly entertained.

The scenario of kidnapped-child-overcoming-his-fears-and-captors is a common one, though truthfully it’s one of which I never tire. Kevin Cartwright’s predicament in Captain Grey appears hopeless. His family is dead, he is held against his will, and he is soon forced to fight alongside his enemies for his own survival. Kevin’s relationship with his kidnapper—the murderous, traitorous father-figure of Captain Grey—barely softens throughout the eleven-year-old boy’s ordeal, and this is a point that stuck with me.

Throughout the book, nearly every adult-figure expounds upon how dangerously evil all forms of government are. Recognizing Avi’s target audience, I couldn’t help but wonder how he would lead his young protagonist through such a barrage of negativity towards authority. Was Avi’s goal to convince Kevin (and his readers) that governmental authority is not to be trusted? that its existence is the cause of all the world’s problems? While the quote above from Captain Grey seems to suggest this very thing, Captain Grey is also quite clearly the Antagonist in this story, based solely upon his behavior. Kevin’s dead father mirrors Captain Grey’s own beliefs and character perfectly, leaving young Kevin (and the reader) with the very adult challenge of weighing clear, unchallenged moral arguments against each arguer’s character.

Whether this challenge of discernment is a common theme in all of Avi’s writing, I don’t know, but I must admit how refreshing it is to see an author not spelling out the moral lessons of his story for his readers. This is one fault I have with Christian fiction, especially that meant for youth. Those Christian parents sheltering their children from “secular” yet moral entertainment run the risk of dulling the children’s sense of discernment, which could actually prove more dangerous down the road than helpful.

This was an enjoyable book of adventure, and one that taught profitable lessons. I’d recommend it to young boys especially, though sheltering parents should give it shot as well, if only to see what good reading is out there outside the bubble.

©2014 E.T.

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