Title: The Rebellion of Jane Clarke
Author: Sally Gunning
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “Jane Clarke leads a simple yet rich life in the small village of Satucket on Cape Cod. The vibrant scent of the ocean breeze, the stark beauty of the dunes, the stillness of the millpond are among the daily joys she treasures. Her days are full attending to her father’s needs, minding her younger siblings, working with the local midwife. But at twenty-two, Jane knows things will change. Someday, perhaps soon, she will be expected to move out of her father’s home and start a household of her own.
Yet some things—including the bitter feud between her father and a fellow miller named Winslow—appear likely to remain the same. When the dispute erupts into a shocking act of violence, Jane’s lifelong trust in her father is shaken. Adding to her unease is Phinnie Paine, the young man Jane’s father has picked out as son-in-law as well as business partner. When Jane defies her father and refuses to accept Phinnie’s marriage proposal, she is sent away to Boston to make her living as she can.
Arriving in this strange, bustling city awash with red coats and rebellious fervor, Jane plunges into new conflicts and carries with her old ones she’d hoped to leave behind. Father against daughter, Clarke against Winslow, loyalist against rebel, command against free will—the battles are complicated when her growing attachment to her frail aunt, her friendship with the bookseller Henry Knox, and the unexpected kindness of the British soldiers pit her against the townspeople who taunt them and her own beloved brother, Nate, a law clerk working for John Adams.
But when Jane witnesses British soldiers killing five colonists on a cold March evening in 1770, an event now dubbed “the Boston Massacre,” she must question seeming truths and face one of the most difficult choices of her life, alone except for the two people who continue to stand by her—her grandparents Lyddie and Eben Freeman.”
Thoughts: Why do I like historical fiction? I view historical fiction as an opportunity to learn something new, to step outside the history books and view well-known historical events with fresh eyes, and to understand what life was like long ago. The Rebellion of Jane Clarke succeeds in each of these key points. Jane’s plight not only takes a fresh look at the Boston massacre and presents what life was like for an unmarried twenty-something girl, while using true historical figures to help with authenticity.
With a title like The Rebellion of Jane Clarke, the reader knows that peace and happiness will elude Jane through most of the novel, no matter how much she might crave it. With events surrounding the Boston massacre as the backdrop, Jane’s own rebellion mirrors that facing the colonials. Truth and free will are the end game but discerning that truth and earning that free will are more difficult than either side ever considered.
Jane is a likable character albeit rather naive in her trust of others. She is granted more freedoms and allowed to express her opinion more openly than one might have thought possible. Whether this is indeed true or literary license remains unknown. Her confusion about the events in Boston and her own choices feel authentic, however. Her doubts about both keep the reader interested and move the story towards its satisfactory conclusion.
Likable is how I would describe The Rebellion of Jane Clarke. It was an enjoyable novel, even though it is fairly simple in its context. Highlighting how easy it is for the truth to become clouded is probably its best feature, and Ms. Gunning does an excellent job of showing how the Boston Massacre was distorted and used as fuel for the colonials’ purposes. Jane herself is not very memorable and is more representative of all single women of the era. Still, The Rebellion of Jane Clarke is a pleasant addition to pre-revolutionary historical fiction, and historical fiction fans could definitely do worse than check it out for themselves.
Thank you to Megan Traynor of Harper Publishing for my review copy!