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Monday, July 19, 2010

A Revolutionary Woman

The Rebellion of Jane Clarke
Sally Gunning

William Morrow, 2010

Jane Clarke lives in pre-Revolutionary War New England. Her life is simple yet rich. She is lucky enough to be able to enjoy the vibrant scent of the ocean breeze, the stark beauty of the dunes, and the stillness of the millpond. Her days are full attending to her father's needs, minding her younger siblings, helping her stepmother, and working with the local midwife. But at twenty-two, Jane knows things will change. For one thing, her father has picked out a young man to be her husband as well as his business partner, but Jane feels unsure of his intentions and her heart. When Jane refuses Phinnie Paine’s proposal of marriage, her father at first attempts to change her mind, then sends her away to Boston to care for her frail, elderly aunt, which turns out to be the second big change in Jane’s life.

At first she dreads the isolation and quiet involved with caring for an invalid, but soon Jane grows attached to her aunt and suspicious of the servants. She suspects them of stealing but can’t prove anything in spite of constantly monitoring them. Why are they acting so strangely? Meanwhile, she develops a friendship with the bookseller Henry Knox, and others who are involved in the growing rebellion against the British. In fact, Jane herself becomes embroiled in the situation when the unexpected kindness of a British soldier pits her against the townspeople who taunt them – and her own brother. The situation threatens to blow up in spite of all her efforts to explain the truth, but no one will listen to her – it’s as if they want an excuse to go to war. Then, Jane witnesses the infamous “Boston Massacre,” when five colonists are killed by British soldiers. Now she must question her own beliefs and values and face one of the most difficult choices of her life – tell the truth and risk estrangement from her friends and family, or be complicit in a lie, which goes against everything she knows.

Gunning has created another historical novel that once again exceeds expectations. Jane is a likeable and agreeable young woman who can’t decide what she wants in life, but she knows she is special and deserves quality in her friends, her books, and a potential husband. The other characters are fascinating – especially the frail aunt who turns into something quite unexpected, and Nate, Jane’s brother, who starts out as a minor character and then becomes the center of the action. Speaking of action, the book is full of it, complete with spies, intrigue, dangerous situations, sexual liaisons, and even forgiveness and reconciliation. This book is almost worthy of five cupcakes, except I didn’t feel the need to turn around and read it again. It was quite satisfying all by itself.

Rating (see guide below):

Other titles by this author:
The Widow’s War (2006) – my favorite!
Bound (2008) – also pretty darn good.

Other titles you may enjoy:

Gun Ball Hill by Ellen Cooney
In 1774, the friends and relatives of the Mowlan family of Tibbetston, Maine are shattered by an event that is rooted in personal animosity but that takes its occasion from the growing unrest in the American colonies. For some, it is the wake-up call announcing the inevitability of war; for others, it is a spur to long-delayed action. Each character must come to terms with the staggering uncertainty that the war represents. For some, that means setting aside the concerns of "normal" life; for others, it means struggling to maintain some connection to normalcy in the face of disaster.

Rise to Rebellion by Jeff Shaara
In 1770, the fuse of revolution is lit by a fateful command—"Fire!"—as England's peacekeeping mission ignites into the Boston Massacre. The senseless killing of civilians leads to a tumultuous trial in which lawyer John Adams must defend the very enemy who has assaulted and abused the laws he holds sacred. Yet a taut courtroom drama soon broadens into a stunning epic of war, as King George III leads a reckless and corrupt government in London toward the escalating abuse of his colonies. Outraged by the increasing loss of their liberties, and extraordinary gathering of America's most inspiring characters—Ben Franklin, Sam Adams, John Adams, George Washington, and others—confronts the British presence with the ideals that will change history.

Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl by Kate McCafferty
In 1651, ten-year-old Cot Daley is kidnapped from her home in Galway, Ireland, and taken to Barbados. She is just one of more than 50,000 Irish who were sold as indentured servants to the plantation owners of the Caribbean, who worked them alongside the African slaves. After surviving a failed rebellion in which the black and Irish slaves conspired to overthrow their masters, Cot has been called in for questioning by Peter Coote, a disenchanted British doctor who has sold his soul to the governor of the island. She agrees to give her account of the uprising but only as part of her life story, wanting to set the record straight for posterity. As Coote begins to record the testimony of Cot Daley, whom he refers to as "the biddy" and "the white woman," what unfolds is the story of her amazing life-the brutal journey to Barbados, her harrowing years as a slave, her marriage to an African slave and rebel leader, and the fate of her children.

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