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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars God for Harry, England and St. George!
It's one of those rare books that began as a children's tale and ended up considerably adult 30-some years down the line. This happens to a great many children's books over time. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland", and others all began with kids as the intended audience but later ended up in the hands of scholarly adults everywhere. Such...
Published on October 9, 2005 by E. R. Bird

versus
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pessimistic and Cynical
As I begin writing this review, I know that it is about to be the only review that gives this book less than three stars so far. My husband just gave this book to me for Christmas, so I read it. I knew after a few pages that it was going to be difficult for me to read. We read books, according to Leland Ryken in Realms of Gold, because stories help us grapple with life...
Published 12 months ago by Anne


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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars God for Harry, England and St. George!, October 9, 2005
It's one of those rare books that began as a children's tale and ended up considerably adult 30-some years down the line. This happens to a great many children's books over time. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland", and others all began with kids as the intended audience but later ended up in the hands of scholarly adults everywhere. Such is the fate of the remarkably well-written "A Long Way From Verona". A thoughtful book that considers what it is to be a writer, one girl's battle with the crippling depression of adolescence, and some mild magical realism for kicks, this is a mighty intelligent 190 pages. It's funny, insightful, and one of the few books that I will concede that adults will enjoy far more than children.

Jessica Vye cannot tell a lie. Or rather, she probably could but she would prefer not to. Growing up in the middle of World War II and attending an all girls local school, Jessica has been having some difficulty with certain members of the educational staff. She's occasionally abrasive but always amusing to listen to and has a far clearer eye than most of the adults around her. She is convinced that she can be a writer by an elderly author at the start of the book, and as such she dedicates herself to her own style. The rest of "A Long Way From Verona" follows suit, with Jessica doing exactly what she wants in the face of those with more power around her. By the book's end she has grappled with what it means to be happy in this world in spite of all its misery and has been ultimately redeemed in terms of her own writing.

By the time I finished reading this book, I found that I had been continually comparing it to 1972's mighty similar, "A Sound of Chariots", by Mollie Hunter. In both cases, English girls growing up during and after major world wars deal with their communist/socialist fathers and defy authority at every turn. I wish heartily that I had read, "Chariots", only after reading "Verona", since Gardam's book was not only the first written but is also more amusing as a whole. Gardam is not afraid to dive deep into the world of biting satire. Some of the best passages in this book come when Jessica reluctantly stays a week-end with some rich neighbors on their own insistence. These people are the kind of pink-cheeked, healthy, all-British family that you'd see on greeting cards or advertisements. Their relentlessly cheerful and utterly and completely awful. For a brief amount of time, Jessica falls for the family's son, Christian, a boy who adores her father for his articles about human dignity in the New Statesman. In my favorite passage, Christian decides that Jessica has never seen any slums and takes her to see one. The thing is, Christian is coming from a very privileged background. The area that he repeatedly calls "hell" is, to Jessica's eyes, not so bad. As he tries to convince her that she's in the worst place in the world, Jessica just says, "Well, I think I expected green slime or something. Just shacks and green slime. I mean I haven't seen anywhere worse exactly ... But if they planted a few trees ... If it was all painted white, and it was in Africa or somewhere and they had bright-colored clothes".

I love this. And this is the tone of the book in general. What makes Gardam so remarkable is that "A Long Way From Verona" has a very modern voice. Jessica is cynical in a very contemporary way. Her father has become a curate, though this is the Church of England we're talking here. Nothing too relentlessly spiritual. At one point Jessica is sick in bed and she asks her father to remove a particularly sickly picture of, "Jesus as a boy with curly yellow hair, holding out his hands above a lot of rabbits". Her father agrees instantly that it has to go and with a flourish shoves it under the bed with a "Goodbye". Gardam also zeroes in on that peculiar phenomenon where girls in their early teens fixate on depressing literature. Jessica reads "Jude the Obscure" and can't stop thinking of it. Girls today read, "The Lovely Bones" and "A Child Called It" and feel the same way. It's marvelous. If I've any objections to this book at all, it might be the name. Who on earth is going to pick up a book called, "A Long Way From Verona"? It has almost nothing to do with the book, aside from Jessica's decision not to read Shakespeare's, "Romeo and Juliet". Far better to name it, "The Maniac" after her prize-winning poem or, heck, "Green Bezzums". I vote for the latter.

It should come as no surprise that Gardam's book reads better from an adult perspective than a childish one. Just look at her more recent novels and you can see that she has given up writing for children entirely. Whether this is because she realizes that her voice is better appreciated by people over the age of 22, or because her publishers and editors are forever steering her away from a younger audience, I do not know. I do wish that this book might get a re-release under an adult publisher and be rediscovered by humanity as a whole. Until that happens, however, it's just going to remain one of those amazing little secrets. A book that pleases everyone who reads it and deserves more attention. Lovely.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To hell with school! English is life!, June 5, 2001
By A Customer
I first read this book at the age of ten. After I returned it to the library, I forgot the title and had to spend hours scouring the bookshelves to find it again. It was worth it. Even now, at eighteen, I love it more than ever. This book should be read by everyone, but especially by children. The basic story is; a young girl who dreams of being a writer goes to a stuffy English private school where the teachers take every action possible to crush her ambitions. However, she prevails with irrepressible wit and humor. If you're passionate about life, literature, or anything at all, READ THIS BOOK!
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars favourite book of all time, July 18, 2000
By 
Ruth (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
This is my favourite book of all time. I never get tired of reading it. It's about this thirteen year old girl in England during the second world war, and stuff that happens to her over a year or two. It's one of those books where the girl is narrating and perceiving one thing but you (with your superior wisdom and experience) can see more than she does. I think it's very real and subtle and a true statement of what it's like to be a teenage girl. This part is so true, that I feel like I'm really learning about how it must have been like during the war in England. So often I feel a disconnect when people write about this age group.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pessimistic and Cynical, January 2, 2014
By 
This review is from: A Long Way from Verona (Paperback)
As I begin writing this review, I know that it is about to be the only review that gives this book less than three stars so far. My husband just gave this book to me for Christmas, so I read it. I knew after a few pages that it was going to be difficult for me to read. We read books, according to Leland Ryken in Realms of Gold, because stories help us grapple with life and the realities of what we live through. Stories help us process and make sense of the world we live in.

This book discouraged me. I am the mother to three children, one of who will soon be entering her teen years. My own teen years were very painful, filled with much rejection and heartache. I hope that my own daughters will have more of an arsenal of confidence and love to help them weather the storms of their teen years better than I did. My husband said to me recently that most people look back on their teen years and laugh at the pain and awkwardness of them. I know many people are able to do this--hence movies like Napoleon Dynamite. But, my heart is wired very differently. Napoleon Dynamite was extremely painful for me to watch. Just as this book was very painful for me to read.

This story is about the year in which Jessica Vye was thirteen years old. It is a pessimistic and cynical view of life as a teenager. She is completely self-absorbed and insensitive to her family and adults in her life. She is disrespectful and disparaging of most people in her life. The adults are also depicted as idiots even when they're not. Her descriptions of her parents was particularly cringe-inducing for me (a mom to a soon to be teenage girl). My husband said most teenagers are like this. Yes, I know many are. But, not all. I know many that aren't. This book felt very hopeless to me. Jessica had no hope that her life would get better or really any hope about anything. She was discouraged from hoping about her writing from her teachers.

Is this book true to life for many people? Yes. Jessica's reaction to people and social awkwardness is easy to identify with. But, rather than feeling hopeful after I had finished reading it, I felt dejected and downcast. I don't read books to feel that way. Life is hard enough anyways.

As for the writing, Ms. Gardam is obviously a good writer. But, this book is extremely slow moving and I realized that much of the writing while using different word orders, uses very simple language. The heroine of this story is difficult to sympathize with. After finishing this book, I began reading Gilead, which is quite different. The main character of that book admits his flaws and sees the truth about his own character from the beginning, where Jessica never does even by the end. I sympathize with the main character of Gilead and want to understand him.

Many people feel reviews of books should solely be based upon the writing, but the stars actually mean I do or don't like a book. I gave this book two stars because I don't like it. I wouldn't recommend it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I ought to tell you at the beginning that I am not quite normal, May 15, 2009
By 
J C E Hitchcock (Tunbridge Wells, Kent, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
A long way from Verona indeed. Jane Gardam's novel is set not in the Italian city but in the North Riding of Yorkshire. Verona is, in fact, never mentioned in the book, although there are a couple of references to "Romeo and Juliet", and an Italian prisoner-of-war plays a minor role. The story takes place in 1940/41, during the early days of the Second World War. The narrator and central character is Jessica Vye, the thirteen-year-old daughter of a local clergyman. There may be autobiographical elements in the book; Ms Gardam would have been thirteen in 1941, and the seaside town in which it is set is clearly based on her own home town of Redcar. Jessica herself has ambitions to become a writer.

There is no central, strongly-defined plot line; the book is episodic in structure, recounting the main occurrences in Jessica's life over a period of several months. Despite the historical period in which it is set, this is not so much a war story as a coming-of-age story with a wartime setting. Only in one, crucial, episode do the hostilities play a significant role. Jessica has become friendly with Christian Fanshawe-Smythe, the fifteen-year-old son of one of her father's clerical colleagues, and he suggests that they should together visit a neighbouring industrial town to see how its working-class inhabitants live. When they do, they are caught up in an air raid.

The theme of social class is an important one in the book. Although the fathers of both families are clergymen, there is a strong contrast between the wealthy Fanshaw-Smythes and the lower-middle-class Vyes, a contrast brought out when Jessica is invited to spend an uncomfortable weekend as a guest of the Fanshawe-Smythes, and is dismissed as "gharsley" (ghastly) by their daughters. Christian, an ardent Communist, regards the working-class neighbourhood as a hellish slum, whereas Jessica cannot see what is so bad about it. Christian's friendship with Jessica has less to do with any romantic interest in her than with his (probably incorrect) belief that her mildly left-wing father, a former schoolmaster who has left that profession to follow his religious vocation as a curate, shares his Communist convictions.

There is more to the novel, however, than a guide to the British class system as it existed in the early forties. Ms Gardam's main concern was not to explore social issues but to create a portrait of a sensitive girl in her early teens. As one might imagine, the most important element in Jessica's world, apart from her family, is her school, and many of the incidents describe concern her relationships with her classmates and her teachers. One point that comes through is that the British educational system at this period seems to have been in many ways a stiflingly conservative one, more concerned with turning out well-scrubbed, well-behaved little conformists than with encouraging children to think for themselves. (A similar point is made in Muriel Spark's "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"). The system is quite ill-suited to the needs of a sensitive, intelligent child like Jessica, whose class teacher Miss Dobbs nurtures a strong dislike for her.

Despite some serious themes, the book is essentially a witty one, even at times a comic one. Jessica has a quite original, idiosyncratic way of looking at the world, as she readily admits; the opening words are "I ought to tell you at the beginning that I am not quite normal, having had a violent experience at the age of nine". Jane Gardam encourages us to see the world through Jessica's eyes and to smile with her at its oddities. A very enjoyable novel.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb beyond all possible doubt, January 7, 2002
By 
It's good to see this exceptional book back in print. I don't think Gardam's adult novels--fine as they are--have the dancing intensity of her early work for children. Jessica Vye is immediately engaging, and her growth takes her out into the world instead of into herself, and towards the amazed discovery that "good things take place" in spite of everything. I was a teenager way too long ago, am male, and never lived in the north of England; but this remains one of my favorite pieces of fiction. Read it, reread it, and go dig up a copy of "Bilgewater", too....
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another of Jane Gardam's best!, May 25, 2014
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Jane Gardam's ability to create interesting and believable characters is unsurpassed. If you liked God on the Rocks, you will love this one, too.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “English has nothing to do with duty…it has nothing to do with school…To hell with school…ENGLISH IS LIFE.”, December 7, 2013
This review is from: A Long Way from Verona (Paperback)
(3.5 stars) A coming-of-age novel, A Long Way from Verona is also Jane Gardam’s first novel, originally published in 1971. Here, the as-yet-unpublished author examines the growth of a writer from her days as a thirteen-year-old schoolchild in a small British village during World War II to the publication of her first poem, providing insights into the “mania” of writing, what impels it, and the frequent agonies which accompany it, especially when the writer is an enthusiastic adolescent. Like many other debut novels, it is often sparkling and original, though not perfect, and while it will not completely satisfy every reader, especially some fans of her later, more mature and fully developed novels, it becomes especially significant because one recognizes how much of the novel must be autobiographical.

Jessica Vye, the richly described main character, tells her own story, filled with the confusions of a thirteen-year-old who is trying to figure out who she is. “I am not, I am glad to say, mad,” she informs us, but she does see herself as set apart from other girls her age as a result of an experience she had when she was nine. “A man came to our school…to talk to us about becoming writers,” and to her surprise he is “absolutely marvelous,” reading from many classic books, poems, stories, conversations, and bits of plays, all in different voices. Best of all, he tells her, after seeing her writings, that she is “a writer beyond all doubt.”

Dividing the novel into three parts – “The Maniac,” “The Boy,” and “The Poem” – Jane Gardam tells Jessica Vye’s story, emphasizing the three most important influences in Jessica’s life during that one emotionally volatile year when she is thirteen. Jessica is in many ways typical of young teens, with mood swings, teary outbursts, and difficulties with peers and parents, and though this characterization rings true, some readers may find all the teenage angst wearisome. At the halfway mark, however, the action becomes far more dramatic and far more reflective of some of Gardam’s later themes – alienation, religious doubt, and one’s responsibilities to those less fortunate. When Jessica becomes friendly with a handsome fourteen-year-old boy who seems as alienated as she is, the young man decides to show Jessica “real life” around the slums and docks, and that revelation does not reflect the glories which her church suggests is awaiting all who love God. Disaster strikes while Jessica and her young man are visiting, and Jessica eventually she puts all her feelings into a poem, the first one she regards as completely “finished.”

Throughout the novel, Jane Gardam shows her now well known-wit and her ability to choose exactly the right words and images to covey Jessica’s feelings and her seemingly psychic insights into the people around her. In the later part of the novel, Gardam also creates strong feelings in the reader, many of these feelings related to insights she gives into the creative process and into the themes which persist throughout her later novels. Younger readers (including Young Adult readers) may especially relate to Jessica’s personal quandaries and her learning curve, while older readers will appreciate Gardam’s style and her insights into all styles of the writing discussed here.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Can't wait to read more Jane Gardam!, July 27, 2014
This review is from: A Long Way from Verona (Paperback)
Oh my goodness. I’ve just finished a book that has rocketed to the top of my list, and toppled all the other books nearby. It’s my new Favorite Book of All. And you simply must read it, too. It’s an amazing read, with amazing characters and an amazing little story. It’s very odd, but you’ve probably never heard of it and---even odder---you’ve probably even heard of the author. I just came across it by the unlikeliest of chances. It’s on the 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read list, so somebody else must love it, too. Don’t worry about that; it’s not really a just-for-children book. It’s a great book, about families, and friendships, and growing up, and religion (just a bit) and happiness, and finding your calling. Oh, you really must read it. Now. Hope you can find a copy. And remember to thank me when you finally give it a read.

And I’ll be off now to find some more Jane Gardam. I’m afraid nothing can be as good as this delicious novel, but I must try to find a little more and see for myself.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great writing!, June 12, 2014
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This review is from: A Long Way from Verona (Paperback)
Jessica Vye is 13 and the novel is written in her voice. It is so much fun I was sorry it ended. She is very outspoken and can't help being honest. If you want to hang out with her and her friends for a while, this book is waiting for you to pick it up.
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A Long Way from Verona
A Long Way from Verona by Jane Gardam (Paperback - November 5, 2013)
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