NAMESAKE earns four stars from CM Magazine
When Jane Grey’s history class are assigned a research project on Tudor England, it only seems logical that she would choose her namesake, Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen, as her topic. But her research becomes much more personal when she inadvertently stumbles upon a way to travel back in time. Initially baffled, she soon determines that an exquisite, leather-bound book entitled Booke of Prayere is the portal that enables her to be transported to the Tower of London in 1553 where she is invisible to everyone she encounters – everyone except Lady Jane Grey. As the modern Jane makes repeated visits to the past, the two girls struggle to understand what is happening. At first, Lady Jane believes that her strange visitor must be an angel or a messenger from God sent to test her faith, while the modern Jane wonders why she has been granted this opportunity. Could it be that she is somehow meant to change, or rescue Lady Jane from, her terrible fate? As they each wrestle with their own wonder and misgivings about this extraordinary development, they form a solid friendship that bridges whatever gaps might lay between them. And as both girls also attempt to deal with the harsh realities of their own respective lives, they each find solace and strength in this new-found friendship.
In every way, this novel is a triumph. MacLeod deftly weaves the modern Jane’s contemporary story with the true-life tale of Lady Jane Grey. Both storylines are fully developed and vividly rendered, with the time-travel element simply and elegantly incorporated into the fabric of Jane’s present-day life. In so doing, the author expertly brings the history to life for her readers while concurrently crafting a poignant tale of a modern teen’s efforts to navigate the hardships of both high school and a troubled home life.
The modern Jane has much to contend with in her own world. There are all the typical travails and uncertainties of high school: fear that she might be losing her best friend; worry that her new crush is in love with her best friend. But in addition to these, Jane also contends with an unpredictable mother whose alcoholic tendencies make life a daily challenge for them both. Jane never knows which “mode” she will find her mother in: Mode One, ‘Single Mother as Hero’; Mode Two, ‘Nothing Mode’; or the frightening Mode Three, ‘Day When Hell Broke Loose Mode’. Nor does she know exactly what will trigger a sudden switch to the dreaded Mode Three when her mother is capable of cruelty and even violence. Although Jane’s best friend has long suspected that there were problems, Jane has always tried to hide the full truth. But bearing this burden alone has left her feeling lonely and isolated, placing a distance between her and her friends.
So it is not surprising that once she finds this portal into the past, she begins spending more and more time in Tudor England where she becomes caught up in Lady Jane’s horrific plight and where she can also escape from her own painful present. And as she immerses herself in Lady Jane’s world, that tragic story simultaneously unfolds in a way that allows readers to gain a greater understanding of the historical context of the events while also putting a human face on Lady Jane Grey’s suffering. The modern Jane comes to know her as a girl not unlike herself, a girl who has her own hopes and dreams and loves and beliefs but who was used by the very people who should have protected her. Through both her own research in the present and her visits to the past, modern Jane learns that her namesake had been forced to break a betrothal to a boy she very much loved, that her parents had brutally beaten her and forced her to accept the crown even though she felt that it was wrong, that she had been further betrayed by them and that she was deeply committed to the New Faith and would remain unfailingly true to her faith until the very end. Even as the modern Jane wonders if maybe, just maybe, she really can change the past for her friend, she recognizes that no matter how bleak things look for her in her present life, there is at least still hope. Inspired by her namesake, she finds the courage to confront her challenges head on. The fact that MacLeod is able to tell both stories so sympathetically and to fully realize the characters of both girls is a testament to her skills as a writer. Both the beginning of the story and its arresting conclusion are perfectly crafted, and it is a thoroughly satisfying, bittersweet, beautifully-told story that is to be savoured.
-Lisa Doucet, CM Magazine
☆ / 4 Review