Screw the Rules, for We Are Pirates

Review of We Are Pirates, a novel by Daniel Handler.
Life is a mess of people and desires and the rules that bind us together. Sometimes those rules are written, sometimes they’re held true by the majority of us without having to say it out loud. Stealing, we say, is wrong. But life is about the exchange of goods. By nature, we steal what is stolen from us.

… Okay, trust me. That opening is way less pretentious than the one I was attempting before.

Set in modern San Francisco, the book tells the story of a moody fourteen-year-old Gwen Needle, who is fourteen, and unhappy with her life, her family, her world and the rules that govern it. It also tells the story of his father, Phil Needle, who is having a difficulty trying to feed his family and  doesn’t realise that he’s having a difficult trying to hide that fact. Gwen, in an attempt to escape from his unfair world, took off with her friends to become actual, legit, in-the-open-seas, pirates. In the meantime, Phil is trying his hardest to find some buried treasures of his business and by the time he realised what his daughter was up to, it was too late for him.

It’s a story about teenagers, both from the view of being teenagers (the world is larger than our home, the rules imposed, everything is unfair) and from the side of the adults (those kids don’t know what they have, the pressure of time and money and life and family, the inability to find the opportunity to express love). It’s a story about the search of happiness, amidst a world that keeps on going, even without us. It’s a story about being people, whose world can stops and boxes itself in, no matter how the world at large revolves.

In the much less wordy words written in the book itself, “it’s a human interest story, because humans are interested in it.”

The premise is strangely unfantastic, but, like the world itself, everything is fantastic through the way it’s told, through how you view it. And the book’s narration, like the pirates of old, tells this story without caring for established methods and styles and phrases. It rolls on with the force of its own momentum, carried by the wind it blows on itself. It takes you  from setting to setting without a pause, dropping actions and feelings and mixing them into a sort of word cocktail. It’s gleeful and full of mayhem and it’s best read without paying attention to detail, only taking in those details through some subliminal thought processing.

We Are Pirates is a strange strange strange novel. It doesn’t care for what story it’s trying to tell but it tells it anyway, sincerely and with grace. It’s often funny but does not care that it is funny, it’s often dark and but does not care that it has crossed some moral boundary. It’s something completely new and unexpected, like dropping actual arr!-ing pirates in modern San Francisco.

Let’s see. I guess a 4 or 3 stars out of 5 would be good, but it’s honestly not the sort of book you can put through some rating system. I like it, in a way, and would recommend it if you have the guts for it, if you’re ready for a ride.


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