May 14, 2013


by Sue MacLeod
Pajama Press
232 pp.
Ages 12+
May 1, 2013

In current-day Halifax, teen Jane Grey and fellow classmates in her Advanced Placement History are embarking on their research projects and it would seem obvious that she would focus on her Namesake, Lady Jane Grey.

Just a bit of a history lesson for those unfamiliar with the Nine Days Queen.  In 1553, due to the machinations of her parents and the Duke of Northumberland, Lady Jane Grey was made heir to the King of England, Edward VI.  She had already wed the son of the Duke of Northumberland, so when Edward VI passed, the Duke declared Lady Jane to be Queen of England, sure that he could control the throne through her.   However, according to succession, Lady Jane's cousin Mary, King Edward VI's half-sister and King Henry VIII's daughter, would be next Queen.  Imprisoned until the arrival of soon-to-be Queen Mary I, Lady Jane was hopeful of a pardon because becoming Queen had never been her intention.  However, with her parents and the Duke playing the odds with her against Mary, and because her strong belief in her Protestant faith conflicted with Mary's Catholicism, a pardon was not granted and Lady Jane was executed.

In the twenty-first century, Jane discovers a small book called Booke of Prayre while unpacking her backpack of library books.  Reading aloud from it, Jane is transported mysteriously to the environs of the Tower of London, eavesdropping on two women, Mistress Tilney and Mistress Ellen gossiping about "our lady." Repeated visits to 1553 has Jane making the acquaintance of Lady Jane Grey and learning of her fate, her hopes, her regrets and her position on her faith.  Knowing what historically happened to Lady Jane, Jane wonders about her purpose in being sent back.  Was she to help the Lady convert to Catholicism?  Was she to help Lady Grey escape? Or was she there simply to provide her with companionship?

Dealing with her own tenuous situation at home, Jane is sympathetic to Lady Jane's dilemma, recognizing the similarity in the extent of their dire circumstances and inability to change them.  Since the death of her father, Jane has come to recognize that her mother Analise works in one of three modes: Mode One is Single Mother as Hero; Mode Two is the Nothing mode; and Mode Three is Hell.  Though a competent English professor, Analise harbours much anger related to her husband's death, and deals with it using alcohol which just exacerbates her mood swings and colours her interactions with Jane.  Not surprising that Jane has concerns when her history group must meet at eachother's homes for study and editing sessions.  And with best friend Megan hanging out with the tactless Crisco and wrapped up in a boyfriend situation, Jane is feeling more and more isolated and unable to find support.  For Jane, slipping back into 1553 gives her an opportunity to exert some control.

While Namesake may be initially seen as a standard time-slip novel, with a contemporary character going back in time to learn something which she could apply to her own life, the book goes beyond this by Jane trying to take an active role in Lady Jane's situation, even to the point of altering history if need be.  Jane educates Lady Jane on the vernacular and popular culture of her Halifax and Canada.  And while Lady Jane does begin to try out some of her new vocabulary, she uses it as a foreign language, not dropping the occasional work into her own speech.  Sue MacLeod has given Lady Jane a voice so authentic that her use of newly-acquired vocabulary provides for some much-needed humour.  Her voice is true and melodic, never wavering from that of a sixteenth-century young woman.

I am especially pleased by the direction the author takes Jane's time slip, allowing for the two young women, just sixteen, to share their lives and their stories, and Jane anticipating bringing Lady Jane back with her.  But, when Lady Jane does slip into Jane's time, it spurs a new relationship between Jane and her neighbour, the elderly woman she has nicknamed Mrs. Lynde (à la Green Gables), who surprisingly becomes her salvation.

The history is true, the twists unique and the touches of humour and romance are heart-warming. And Namesake still delivers an open ending that takes the reader to a more hopeful situation than Lady Jane's true horrific ending.

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