Thursday’s Old Favourite: A Long Way from Verona by Jane Gardam

veronaA Long Way from Verona is a coming of age story about Jessica Vye, told in her own quirky voice, a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl who dreams of being a writer. If this novel had been published in the last twenty years, you’d find it classed as YA. But the subtlety of the title might be lost on many young readers, referring as it does to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In one humorous scene, it is the end of term and Jessica and three friends decide to celebrate by treating themselves to a ‘shilling tea’ at a tea shop. A somewhat theatrical old woman at a nearby table exclaims with delight when she sees the girls, calling them little Juliets.

It’s a short novel, but there’s such a lot packed into it. Through Jessica’s eyes, we have a snapshot of wartime Britain, the class system, and what it takes to stick to your principals – Jessica’s curate father does this in spades. Jessica struggles to please her teachers or be taken seriously and is often in trouble for just being Jessica.

What I love about this book:

  • Gardam captures the anxieties and bumbling gaffes that plague you as a thirteen year old. I am instantly thrown back into my thirteen-year-old self when I read it.
  • As I said, it is very funny. I have read it a dozen times and I still chuckle my way thought it.
  • One of the reasons it is funny is because there is so much dramatic tension – Jessica is caught up in an air raid on what is apparently her first date; there’s a country house weekend where Jessica wears all the wrong clothes and says all the wrong things; she is always in trouble with adults, particularly at school; she gets ill.
  • There’s a bunch of interesting minor characters: Jessica’s father, her friend Florence Bone, Miss Philemon the teacher who takes Jessica under her wing and loads more.
  • So much is packed into 190 pages and the writing is super tight.
  • Jessica is such good company. You can imagine the author might have been a kind of Jessica Vye during her own growing-up.

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