Summary: 15 year-old Jane Grey is dealing with an erratic, alcoholic mother at home and a challenging school assignment about Lady Jane Grey, the nine days queen, at school. After getting books from the library to read up on her subject, Jane finds a peculiar little book among the others that she didn’t check out. Turns out it is Lady Jane Grey’s prayer book and it acts as a portal to 1500s England just after Queen Mary has taken the throne and banished Lady Jane to Tower of London. Jane and Lady Jane become friends, and Jane is witness to the effects of Lady Jane’s imprisonment. Driven by knowing how Lady Jane’s story ends, Jane tries to convince Lady Jane to renounce her new faith and return to Catholicism to no avail. Desperate to stop the impending execution, Jane is forced to come up with another plan.
Number of Pages: 230
Age Range: 13-15
One of the things I like about reading fiction is that it can often serve as a non-threatening way to introduce topics readers might later want to read about in a non-fiction capacity. Where reading non-fiction books can at times be dry and daunting, fiction opens up the same topics in a new way, providing characters a reader can personally connect with interspersed with historical facts.
Sue MacLeod’s Namesake is a spectacular example of this. I loved the way she took some liberties with Lady Jane’s story, while still staying true to the historical aspects. MacLeod also manages to make Jane and Lady Jane’s characters equally fleshed out and relatable. The contrast of Jane and Lady Jane’s lives and worlds was thoughtful, stark and very enlightening, but despite all their differences Jane and Lady Jane were able to connect and become good friends. I especially loved when Lady Jane is in Jane’s house and keeps asking her if she really is a commoner because of the house’s indoor plumbing and the spices she has in her kitchen.
MacLeod creates a complicated character in Jane’s mother, Analise, that could have been easily over-drawn and written off as evil. Instead, while I didn’t like how Analise acted, I could still see why she acted the way she did and I had empathy for her. MacLeod provided depth to her emotional outbursts, making me care about Analise and whether she would or could ever work to turn things around. The conflict between Analise and Jane was realistic and I enjoyed Jane’s analysis of her mother’s behaviour.
Throughout this book are literary references, ranging from Jane calling her neighbour Mrs. Rachael Lynde to referencing Thomas More’s Utopia. Reading books with literary references makes me feel like I am on an Easter egg hunt, thrilling me with every reference I find that I am familiar with. Namesake did not disappoint.
I also liked how MacLeod leaves the ending open. Did Jane’s plan to bring Lady Jane to live in 2012 work? There are hints that perhaps it did, but the reader can’t be entirely certain. It’s ultimately left up to the reader to decide.
MacLeod never reveals exactly how Jane got a hold of the prayer book, but can’t you just see a well-meaning (and perhaps somewhat mischievous) librarian slipping the book into her pile at the library?
I would recommend this book more for early teen readers, but it’s a must read for lovers of historical fiction.
“Blue on blue. The sweater was spread out on my comforter when I got home from school a few days later. They were both the shade of blue you sometimes see at twilight. You look up and fill up with happiness, but you also get an ache inside. That blue. – Jane from Namesake by Sue MacLeod, page 73
“‘But you’re not into blood and guts.’
‘No. But maybe I go for tragedy instead.’ I leaned back against the sink now, facing him. ‘Maybe it’s all the same,’ I said. ‘Like there’s something bloodthirsty or. . .’ I searched for the right word. . .
‘Yeah. About being human.'” – conversation between Tom and Jane from Namesake by Sue MacLeod, page 164
“I thought of an expression my mom had used when some of the office staff at her university were being laid off: ‘Everyone’s just waiting for the ax to fall.’ The stuff we say, not even getting it.” – Jane from Namesake by Sue MacLeod, page 193