A Long Way to Verona
Author Jane Gardam (Last Friends, 2013) passes up Verona, except metaphorically, to take readers into the mind and heart of a precocious 13-year-old living in the north of England.
It is 1941. When her father changes jobs and relocates the family, Jessica learns what it means to lose status: a smaller house, distracted parents, mediocre teachers, and strangers who like her, but not for long. Jessica can tell what people are thinking, a mixed blessing, and she puts it on paper. A famous author once called Jessica a born writer. She fills pages with her work and pushes it on new teachers who, dismayed by Jessica’s disregard for rules, fail to corroborate the great man’s opinion. Losing faith in herself and others, Jessica cycles through disappointment, frustration, and something very like cynicism, just as the war comes closer. She heedlessly puts herself at risk, thus learning the meaning of danger.
Yet, the memory of fear is grist for the mill that turns out a poem Jessica knows is good. Validation by those she respects is sweet, when it comes, but not as precious as what she learns about herself.
Jessica’s observations are honest, painfully revealing, and, at times, very funny. The themes of adolescent alienation and non-recognition, which appear in the author’s other work, are treated with the sensitivity of one with a long memory. Many of Gardam’s books have won prestigious awards. All are recommended; but the only preparation needed for this wise and witty novel is awareness of what a “born writer” can achieve. Written in 1971 and reprinted for its ageless appeal, A Long Way to Verona is highly recommended. Read and pass it on.