February 6, 2015 • Cee • Reviews

Daniel Handler - We Are Pirates

We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler
February 3, 2015
Bloomsbury USA
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*ARC courtesy of Lauren Cerand

Mega-bestselling author Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) gives us his long-awaited and most ambitious novel yet: a dark, rollicking, stunningly entertaining human comedy.

A boat has gone missing. Goods have been stolen. There is blood in the water. It is the twenty-first century and a crew of pirates is terrorizing the San Francisco Bay.

Phil is a husband, a father, a struggling radio producer, and the owner of a large condo with a view of the water. But he’d like to be a rebel and a fortune hunter.

Gwen is his daughter. She’s fourteen. She’s a student, a swimmer, and a best friend. But she’d like to be an adventurer and an outlaw.

Phil teams up with his young, attractive assistant. They head for the open road, attending a conference to seal a deal.

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

We Are Pirates is a novel about our desperate searches for happiness and freedom, about our wild journeys beyond the boundaries of our ordinary lives.

Also, it’s about a teenage girl who pulls together a ragtag crew to commit mayhem in the San Francisco Bay, while her hapless father tries to get her home.


First Sentence: [quote]I met Phil Needle on Independence Day, two hundred something-something years since America had freed itself from British rule and just a few days after the pirates had returned from the high seas, at a barbecue commemorating that troubled time.[/quote]

Who’s up for an adventure on the open seas? You? Well, bad news, We Are Pirates is not that kind of book. However, if you’re looking for an extremely dark, yet somewhat humorous story about desperate people trying to escape their reality by turning to piracy whilst calling it an adventure, you’re in luck!

We Are Pirate follows a father, Phil Needle, and his daughter, Gwen, as they both embark on a journey for meaning in their lives. For Phil, who’s a radio producer and a clueless dad, he wants to create a meaningful radio program that will embody the American outlaw spirit and inspire audiences. For Gwen, a fourteen year, she’s extremely unhappy with her family, her love life, and, in general, her life, and yearns for more meaning and freedom, which is why she puts together a crew of similarly restless souls to create mayhem in the San Francisco Bay.

It explores what happens to restless souls when they try to find meaning and freedom in their lives by stepping out of their reality. Prepare to join the adventure!

Five Things That Make We Are Pirates Fascinating

  • Who wouldn’t want to be a pirate?

When you think about becoming pirates, you think of sailing on ships, stealing treasures, and having swashbuckling adventures on the open water, right? It’s all fun and games, causing chaos and mayhem. A life without any parents or rules or expectations is what any person yearned for when they were young, but that is such a romanticized view of what piracy actually is.

In We Are Pirates, the characters learn that life as a pirate is anything but fun. It’s not what it’s cracked up to be; if anything, it’s destructive and violent. The book is a great exploration of somebody trying to be classic pirates in the modern age and ultimately not being able to cut it.

  • It’s about desperate people trying to escape their reality.

All the characters in We Are Pirates are looking for an escape from their unfulfilling lives. They’re all desperate and yearning for purpose, and once you read about them, you see how depressing their actions and thoughts. For Phil, his wife and daughter are constantly at each other’s throat, so he focuses his attention into making an inspiring radio program. For Gwen, she’s unhappy with her entire life—family, love, and social—and decides to become a pirate.

We have various restless characters joining Gwen’s “ragtag crew”: Errol, an old man suffering from Alzheimer’s who is confined to a retirement center; Manny, a Haitian care giver of Errol’s who is treated horribly by his boss; Amber, the daughter of Gwen’s dentist who befriends Gwen and enables Gwen’s destructive behavior; and a mystery person who the crew kidnaps. They steal a ship and become pirates on the open waters of the San Francisco Bay.

But of course, trying to escape their lives and their reality isn’t that easy, as these characters learn. Everything has a tendency to fall to shit when desperation and lack of rules factor in.

  • It’s incredibly dark and gruesome.

Being a pirate means blood will be shed. And oh boy, prepare yourself. When I read it in We Are Pirates, I had not been prepared for it. You, as a reader, almost forget that piracy is a brutal thing. It’s fitting gruesome stuff happens because piracy is not cordial.

It’s startling how these characters aren’t remorseful about what they did nor do they seem to understand the magnitude of their actions. They’re essentially psychopaths, and that is extremely disturbing but weirdly fascinating.

  • The Needle family has a complicated dynamic.

The Needle’s is a family that is slowly breaking apart. They just aren’t working as a family. Marina, the wife/mother, isn’t at all happy with Phil or Gwen. Gwen shoplifting and causing her parent’s major headaches. Gwen and her mother aren’t getting along; they’re always yelling at each other.

The Needle’s have a huge problem; they lack communication. I just find their dynamics to be realistic. Phil is absolutely clueless to what’s going on with his wife and Gwen. They’re almost pretending like everything’s okay, instead of confronting their unhappiness straight on. But despite their unhappiness with each other and their lives, they would drop everything when danger occurs.

  • Gwen’s swashbuckling adventure on the San Francisco Bay is the American outlaw spirit Phil Needle yearns for his radio program to be.

Everything that Phil Needle wants in his radio program—that American outlaw spirit—is happening right in his backyard. Here is his daughter, Gwen, putting together a crew because a pirate’s life is better for them after feeling like “outlaws in [their] lives and outcasts in [their] families.” They are a great human interest story about looking for adventure and about how being an outlaw is linked to desperation, if you think about it. It’s quite depressing.


If you’ve read Daniel Handler’s work, then you know to expect some messed up shit to occur!

We Are Pirates is an interesting, but very tedious read, filled with dark humor that will send you swimming for the nearest shore you see. It has characters that are enjoyable, yet they lacked that spark—that connection needed for me to fully embrace them. It explores life on the open water when characters become restless and want freedom. It’s almost like a case study of what desperate people are willing to do to escape their unfulfilling lives.

Is this book for you? Perhaps. It depends if you’re into his writing style and his usual content. If you do decide to read it, don’t read it because you’re a fan of his work as Lemony Snicket. (That just ensures disappointment.)


One Response to “(ARC) REVIEW | We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler”

  1. Shannelle C. says:

    One word: PIRATES. But I’ve got to tell you, I’ve never read Lemony Snicket, but I love how sarcastic he is online. :D

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