banner ad
banner ad
banner ad

BOOK REVIEW: We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler

| 5 April 2015 | 1 Reply

BOOK REVIEW: We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler

April 2015
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell



When trying to think of something to compare We Are Pirates to, the closest thing that comes to mind – in terms of dark humour, characters, and world building – is American Beauty.

The book itself isn’t quite what the blurb suggested, with the actual piratey adventure beginning only after the halfway mark, and not lasting very long at all. But, where I had gone into this book thinking it would perhaps be a cheesy, feel-good family ride, I was mistaken.

Here there be darkness.


Phil Needle is a husband, a father and a struggling radio producer who longs to be a rebel and a fortune hunter. He’s not a very likable man, and he’s been having a hard time finding and keeping an assistant.

Her first morning he had asked her to proofread a letter he wrote to the Belly Jefferson people. Leonard Steed had suggested, if you notice yourself using one word over and over, the strategy of substituting the word “fruitcake” for the word you can’t stop using, and then going through the letter and reinventing the word differently each time.
Phil Needle had been having trouble with the word “inspiration,” and he thought he’d had it licked. Levine had found no typos, but as it turned out the letter contained six unchanged fruitcakes. After questioning, Levine had revealed that she thought the letter was somehow about fruitcake.

Gwen is his daughter. She’s fourteen. She’s a student, a swimmer and a best friend. But she longs to be an adventurer and an outlaw. She’s recently been caught shoplifting, and now she’s in trouble.

Her boots didn’t mean business. Se wasn’t taller or sexier than she was. She was Gwen, and she was in trouble.

Phil is on the way to a big industry conference to pitch the idea he’s sure could make his career, but, after a problem with the flight, he and his assistant are driving the rest of the way, and he’s completely unaware of what’s happening with his daughter.

“Do you think there’s a problem?” Jane asked him.
“No, I think we just hit air,” Phil Needle said. “So tell me, what kind of music do you like?”
The plane dipped again, right in everyone’s stomachs. Jane named an idiot.
“You like him?” I’m going to die next to you?
“You’re not going to die,” said the crackle on the loudspeaker. Not a word was audible, but the message was clear.

Meanwhile, Gwen has teamed up with a fierce new friend and some restless souls. They head for the open sea, stealing a boat to hunt for treasure.

“There is no dress code, but there are restrictions on language. You may say God. You may say Christ. You may say Goddamn or Christ on a stick. Shit, fuck, bullshit, motherfucking cock, cunt, asshole. But you may not take to task a member of anyone’s family, as we are all family now, and the people who raised us are left on land to rot away.”


Rated purely on enjoyment, this book would be an eight, but there were a few things that didn’t sit quite right. The sudden shifts from present to past without so much as a scene break to differentiate, the author’s repetition of the phrase “at the time of this story” throughout, and no final answer on who the narrator is didn’t bring the story down, but were enough to bring me out of it whenever they came up.

The reader is thrown into the world of the Needles and left to work out what’s going on, and at first it can be a little hard to wrap your head around… everything. But I encourage you to stick with it, it does get easier after the first chapter, and you’ll soon be caught up in the lives of the characters within.

I was promised pirates, and, while the pirate adventure came much later than expected and didn’t last for very long, the characters didn’t do things by halves. The pirate adventure we’re offered is intense and unflinching, and the piecing together of the character’s stories will have you glued to the page.

While I own the complete Series of Unfortunate Events, this is the first time I’ve read anything by the author, and it certainly won’t be my last. The man certainly knows how to weave a story!



Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

About the Author ()

Comments (1)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. NEWS: Steph’s Best (and Worst) Reads of 2015 | 100% ROCK MAGAZINE | 16 January 2016

Leave a Reply

Please verify you\'re a real person: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

banner ad
banner ad