A Long Way from Verona

Jessica Vye, a 12-year-old girl living in Yorkshire during World War Two, introduces herself on the first page of Jane Gardam's A Long Way from Verona by saying: "I ought to tell you from the beginning that I am not quite normal, having had a violent experience at the age of nine." That "experience" consisted of being told by a particularly revered author that she is a born writer, setting the stage for her future accomplishments. Jessica is doomed to be a truth-teller, no matter the cost. She is not well loved by her teachers, and even her friends despair of her, but she soldiers on, seeing matters clearly and saying so.

Issues of class arise when Jessica is invited to a "Children's House Party" at the rectory of a wealthy clergyman. The other guests are typical apple-cheeked, well-fed, pink and pompous English children who find Jessica, the daughter of a curate of very slender means, "gharsely." But the son of the household, an avowed Communist at 15, invites Jessica to visit an industrial town with him to see how bad things are. (She doesn't find it half bad, given her own circumstances.) By story's end, Jessica has learned how to be happy in the pursuit of one's art and is more clear-eyed and determined than ever. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

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