Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

When a teenage boy becomes entangled in the world of Prohibition-era bootlegging, he must navigate dangerous secrets and allegiances in his small town.


"Black Duck" by Janet Taylor Lisle is a gripping historical novel set in the era of Prohibition. The story follows a young boy named Ruben Hart who gets entangled in the dangerous world of rum-running and crime on the coast of Rhode Island. As he uncovers the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of a legendary rum-runner, Ruben finds himself confronting perilous situations and challenging moral dilemmas. Through its compelling narrative, the book delves into themes of loyalty, justice, and the complexities of human nature.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview and Setting

The story is set in the 1920s, during the Prohibition era, in a small coastal town in Rhode Island. The town is plagued by the smuggling of illegal liquor, and rumors abound about the notorious and enigmatic rum-runner known as the Black Duck. The protagonist, Ruben Hart, is an inquisitive and adventurous young boy who becomes embroiled in the dangerous underworld of rum-running after discovering a shipwreck on the beach. As he delves deeper into the mystery, he uncovers secrets that lead him to question the motivations and loyalties of those around him.

Main Characters

The characters in "Black Duck" are intricately woven into the narrative, each playing a significant role in the development of the story.

Ruben HartThe protagonist, a curious and brave young boy who becomes involved in the world of rum-running.
JeddyRuben's best friend, known for his daring and impulsive nature.
CaptainThe enigmatic and legendary rum-runner whose disappearance sets the story in motion.
ElzA mysterious and alluring girl who becomes entangled in the dangerous events surrounding the Black Duck.
Mr. CrouchA local fisherman who is deeply involved in the illicit activities of rum-running.

Summary of Different Story Points over Chapters

Chapter 1-4: Uncovering the Mystery

Ruben and Jeddy stumble upon a shipwreck on the beach and find a hidden compartment filled with bottles of illegal liquor. They begin to unravel the mystery of the Black Duck, a notorious rum-runner who vanished without a trace.

Chapter 5-8: Entering the World of Rum-Running

As Ruben and Jeddy dig deeper into the secrets of the Black Duck, they encounter Mr. Crouch, a local fisherman involved in rum-running. The boys become unwittingly embroiled in the dangerous world of smuggling and deceit.

Chapter 9-12: Confronting Danger and Deception

The boys' curiosity leads them into perilous situations as they navigate the treacherous landscape of rum-running. They encounter Elz, a mysterious girl with ties to the Black Duck, and find themselves entangled in a web of deception and danger.

Chapter 13-16: Unraveling the Truth

Ruben's quest for the truth about the Black Duck leads him to uncover shocking revelations about the people he once trusted. Loyalties are tested, and the line between right and wrong becomes increasingly blurred.

Chapter 17-20: Facing Moral Dilemmas

As the truth behind the Black Duck's disappearance comes to light, Ruben is forced to confront challenging moral dilemmas. He grapples with the complexities of justice, loyalty, and the consequences of his actions.

Main Events

The main events in "Black Duck" revolve around Ruben's journey from innocence to experience as he becomes embroiled in the world of rum-running and crime. The discovery of the shipwreck, the encounters with the enigmatic characters, and the unraveling of the truth about the Black Duck all culminate in a series of gripping and suspenseful events that shape Ruben's understanding of morality and human nature.

Themes and Insights

Loyalty and Betrayal

The novel explores the themes of loyalty and betrayal, as Ruben grapples with the conflicting loyalties of the people around him. He is forced to confront the harsh realities of deception and the complexities of trust.

Justice and Morality

"Black Duck" delves into the moral dilemmas faced by its characters, particularly Ruben, as he navigates the murky waters of crime and justice. The novel prompts readers to consider the difficult choices individuals must make in the pursuit of what is right.

The Complexity of Human Nature

Through its multifaceted characters and intricate plot, the book offers insights into the complexities of human nature. It portrays the inner struggles and conflicting motivations that drive people to make difficult decisions, often blurring the lines between good and evil.

Reader's Takeaway

"Black Duck" is a compelling and thought-provoking novel that immerses readers in the thrilling world of Prohibition-era rum-running. Through its vivid storytelling and engaging characters, the book offers a riveting exploration of loyalty, justice, and the intricacies of human morality. Readers will find themselves captivated by Ruben's journey and challenged to consider the profound themes that underpin the narrative.


In conclusion, "Black Duck" by Janet Taylor Lisle is a captivating historical novel that weaves together elements of mystery, adventure, and moral introspection. Set against the backdrop of the Prohibition era, the story follows the protagonist, Ruben Hart, as he delves into the dangerous world of rum-running and confronts the complexities of loyalty, justice, and human nature. Through its evocative narrative and compelling themes, the book offers readers a rich and immersive reading experience that lingers long after the final page.

Black Duck FAQ

  1. What is the genre of 'Black Duck'?

    Black Duck is a historical fiction novel, set during the Prohibition era, with elements of mystery and adventure.

  2. Who is the author of 'Black Duck'?

    Janet Taylor Lisle is the author of 'Black Duck'.

  3. What is the main theme of 'Black Duck'?

    The main themes of 'Black Duck' include friendship, betrayal, loyalty, and the impact of prohibition on society.

  4. Is 'Black Duck' suitable for young adult readers?

    Yes, 'Black Duck' is suitable for young adult readers and is often recommended for readers aged 12 and up.

  5. What is the setting of 'Black Duck'?

    The story is set in a fictional town on the coast of Rhode Island during the Prohibition era.