The Extraordinary Voyage of Katy Willacott
This novel with a feminist theme is set in Victorian times; its main character is Katy Willacott, daughter of a botanical taxonomist in the Herbarium at Kew Gardens. Having spent a gap year working in the Herbarium at Kew I suspect I was predisposed to like this book and wow! I absolutely loved it.
Already Katy knows that much as she admires what her mother does and enjoys assisting her, she wants much more out of life than working with dried specimens: her dreams are of
going on great expeditions, finding new wonders and making a name for herself. However she faces a huge obstacle: girls aren’t allowed to do that sort of thing. Then a journalist, the embodiment of the spirit of adventure, Fran Brocklehurst, who is researching an article about women in the sciences tells her of extraordinary women in the world doing extraordinary things, and this acts as a catalyst for Katy.
Almost at the same time though, she learns that her brother is about to depart for Hastings accompanying their father who is leading an expedition there. The day they leave, her grandfather shows Katy a newspaper article about an expedition to Brazil to collect meteorite specimens and she makes up her mind to disguise herself as a boy, head for Southampton and join the crew of the ship Alerte, destination Brazil.
Within a few days, Katy, calling herself William Chandler, has landed herself a job as cabin boy aboard said ship and boy does she have a lot to learn: not least, what is the true mission of the expedition led by Sir Thomas Derby?
After a highly eventful voyage the ship finally reaches its destination and Katy goes her own way. She adds more wonderful friends to those she made at sea and makes some alarming discoveries, as well as having an unexpected meeting as the plot twists and turns.
Katy is a determined, strong, caring and capable character; her journey is one of personal growth too: she learns more about the impact early scientists and collectors are having on the world and she’s faced with some challenging decisions. Many controversial issues are covered that are still relevant today: colonialism, deforestation, the destruction of ecosystems and the impact on the indigenous people; there’s racism and misogyny especially related to STEAM issues.
Katy however is not the only tremendous character: this superb book has several including Fran Brocklehurst, but to meet them all I urge you to get a copy yourself; it’s absolutely full of adventure, excitement, brave people young and not so young, and some truly nasty villains too.