Fourteen is Leslie Johansen Nack’s memoir of the time leading up to and then sailing across the Pacific with her sisters and father – when she was 14.
It’s an interesting but disturbing story and I want to make one thing clear at the outset: it’s not a book to give to a young teenager to get her excited about the family’s cruising plans. (A friend saw the book sitting in the cockpit and asked if I thought her 12-year-old daughter would like it.)
Leslie’s family can only be described as dysfunctional: her mother is mostly absent (even when she’s physically present, which isn’t all that often) and her father is an abusive tyrant. He drills his three daughters in sailing; Leslie is the middle girl and the most adept.
In 1975, the three girls and their dad set out for French Polynesia. There are all the normal perils of such a voyage in the days before GPS or accurate weather forecasts, along with the added one of her father’s explosive temper and sexual interest in Leslie. On one hand, Leslie is scared of her dad; on the other, she wants to be his right hand in running the boat. She understands his power but also craves his praise.
The relationship is complex; Leslie’s increasing sailing competence – and taking over for her dad when he is incapacitated – gives her the strength to stand up for herself. Day by day, week by week, you see Leslie taking charge of her own life and developing the strength she needs to literally be safe – both while sailing and with her dad.As the story unfolds, you find yourself simultaneously holding your breath for the next episode of her dad’s strange behavior, and cheering for Leslie’s growing strength in dealing with it. She not only survives, she shows an amazing strength in dealing with situations that would overwhelm many adults, let alone fourteen-year-olds. I found the book gripping.
You can buy fourteen on Amazon, both in print and for Kindle (you don’t have to have a Kindle, you can read on any device with the Kindle app):
DISCLOSURE: I was given a copy of fourteen to review. My opinions, however, are my own.