December 23, 2011

Falling for Henry

Written by Beverley Brenna
Red Deer Press
281 pp.
Ages 12+

Discontented Kate Allen hardly seems a substantial enough character (except for her full figure) to carry her from the 21st century back to 1507 to connect with young Prince Henry, Duke of York, future king.  But, a bizarre incident in a tunnel slips Kate back in time to become Katherine of Aragon, widow of Henry's elder brother and soon-to-be first wife of Henry VIII himself.

Amazing circumstances for a young girl, unhappily living with her older sister in London, following the accidental death of their father in New York.  With a mother who disappeared when she was quite young and a grandmother in Brighton, Kate moves to England where her sister, Willow, is attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.  During a school field trip to Greenwich, claustrophobic Kate enters a tunnel and strangely witnesses a hunting party led by a red-haired young man who kills a buck; a young girl on a gray mare hiding from the others; and a wolf cub and a snarling adult. Although she's convinced she is imaging things, Kate warns the teacher of the presence of wolves, setting herself up for more humiliation from her peers who claim there have been no wolves in Britain for centuries.

Back in the real world, Kate is surprised by the attentions of an older schoolmate, Hal, who takes her out, kisses her, and makes her feel special.  But, while taking out the garbage, Kate sees Hal kissing another girl, petite and blond.  This chain of events, including Kate wearing a stunning blue dress (an unused costume from Willow's current play, Henry VIII) that Willow planned to alter for her, seems too contrived for this reader, especially as Kate, desperate to get out of sight, boards a bus and ends up back in Greenwich at the tunnel where she first slipped back in time.

Regardless, Kate enters the world of Katherine of Aragon, daughter of the King of Spain, love interest of Prince Henry, charge of  Doña Elvira, and confidante of William Fitzroy, the Prince's companion, who is tending to an injured wolf cub, though wolves have been outlawed.  While she has some inherent knowledge of Katherine's life, Kate lacks many memories, stumbling her way through her days of being courted by Henry, while keeping her contemporary insights at bay.  However, the erratic nature of Kate's memories as Katherine (e.g., she cannot remember gifting the astrolabe but knows she practised equestrian arts as a child) as well as Henry's acceptance of her use of words such as technology (pg. 226) continued to throw off my temporal train of thought, often leaving me unsure of what Kate knows and how she would react.

Luckily, Beverley Brenna undertook an exhaustive research regarding Henry VIII, wolves in Britain, an illness called the "sweating sickness" and all manner of Tudor customs, providing young readers with an authentic perspective on British history, made all the more intriguing by focusing on Henry VIII's life as a charming young prince rather than his disreputable nature as a husband.  Although the parallels between Kate's and Katherine's lives seem somewhat fabricated (e.g., suitors Hal-Henry, mothers Isobel-Isabella, dogs Patch-Patch, friend William-Will), the lesson Kate learns, that "No matter how long it takes...the best any of us can wish to fill our place" (pg. 265), cannot so easily be manipulated and is one she will need to work out for herself.

No comments:

Post a Comment