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4.0 out of 5 starsa complex coming-of-age story
Reviewed in the United States on October 12, 2016
Jane Gardam creates settings and characters nearly as complex and individualistic as real life, which does, indeed, make both come alive for the reader. The plot winds with equal individualism and complexity through the story – but I thought of it more as real life than a plot. The novel is a coming-of-age story told in first person by Jessica Vye – an intelligent, articulate, strong-willed, eccentric adolescent girl who is destined to become a writer, so an equally eccentric author who spoke at her school tells her after reading a collection of her stories. The book is set in England during World War II. I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars. The only problem I had with it is that I didn’t feel that Gardam was as comfortable with her characters at the beginning of the book as she became a little later.
5.0 out of 5 starsA glorious but mischaracterized book
Reviewed in the United States on May 29, 2020
Jane Gardam famous for her wonderful novel "Old Filth" also wrote books about and intended for young girls. Her heroine may well be her younger self, bright, confused,a bit "off." I find the character endearing and I imagine it would be chiefly adults who would appreciate this hapless young heroine who may have been a troubled child but is sure to turn out to be an enchanting woman. And a superb novelist.
From one of Britain's best-loved authors, little-known in the U.S. She is veddy, veddy British, quirky, wry, hilarious and wise, all at once, and serves us the proverbial growing pains of life down pat, hands down.
5.0 out of 5 starsA new look at the school girl novel
Reviewed in the United States on May 13, 2014
Jane Gardam's novel is set in an English girls' school in the early years of the Second World War. Written in the first person, it is the story of a short interlude in the life of the outspoken, non-conformist and somewhat eccentric teenager, Jessica Vye. The focus of the novel is a poetry competition, but its importance only becomes apparent about half-way through the novel. The reader has first to meet her rather chaotic family, her teachers, her school friends and her classmates. The language captures wonderfully the volatile moods of a teenage girl and of the period in which it is set - rationing, bomb scares and old-fashioned school discipline. There are nuances of disillusionment and the realization that people are not always what they seem to be. Although the time-span of the novel is only a few months, the Jessica at the end of the story is a far more aware personality than the rather self-centred young girl at the beginning. The ending is perfect.
4.0 out of 5 starsGardam once again hits the nail on the head!
Reviewed in the United States on May 21, 2015
I forgot this little book was written by an adult. A youngster wishes to be a writer. It was so naturally and beautifully written. I read it as a mother, as a friend, as a sister, as a partner, and it filled every one of those views. Try it. But I must admit that for me, Gardam can do no wrong ... Daisy M
Reviewed in the United States on February 24, 2014
Wry, funny, joyful, moody, like growing up itself. In this novel set in England during WW ll, which seems strongly autobiographical, Jessica Vye, a young English schoolgirl, convinced by a chance encounter that she is indeed going to be a writer, follows--and nudges along--the fate of a poem she has written, which is also a metaphor for the journey she herself is making towards who she is going to be. I found it an irresistible journey, through a world of beautifully realized characters.
Jessica Vye is 13 and the novel is written in her voice. It is so much fun I was sorry it ended. She is very outspoken and can't help being honest. If you want to hang out with her and her friends for a while, this book is waiting for you to pick it up.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 7, 2014
I was puzzled by this book. I have enjoyed the 'Filth' books by Jane Gardam and thought I was in for more of the same but this is a thin book that left me unsatisfied. I did not find the characters engaging and some of the story lines were disconnected and seemed to have been put in to bulk out the book. Don't be put off reading the 'Filth' books if you have read this one first, they really are much better.
It's a strange story! Set during the war about a teenager at a middle class school. It did take a bit to get into, with long descriptive stuff about the school, then siddenly it cracked on apace. Ive enjoyed other Jane Gardam novel, man in a wooden hat. Nothing like that!
There is something eccentric about the narrator Jessica Vye who tells you from the beginning "I am not quite normal." But which 13 year old does feel comfortable in her own skin? This one has a life-changing moment the minute she has confirmation from a writer who has visited her school, that she too is a writer "beyond all possible doubt." Other reviewers have given a synopsis, so I will just say that teenagers in my family have enjoyed this book, and I go back to it with great fondness. It has Jane Gardam's original and quirky voice and it led me to read many more of her novels and short stories.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 5, 2020
Read this novel many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Re-reading it proved equally enjoyable. It goes without saying that Gardam is a brilliant writer but Had forgotten how funny and moving this novel was.
At times I found this book hard to read because it was almost an invasion of privacy. It's a wonderful vies of life in the North East - I can smell the wild garlic in the Italian Garden at Saltburn while I read it. It gets into the mind of the precocious 13 year and carries you along. Beautiful.