Namesake Reviews

Quill & Quire Starred Review

Namesake_LR“In her debut novel, Sue MacLeod successfully accomplishes a feat many more experienced writers struggle with: weaving an historical narrative smoothly into a contemporary storyline. The Toronto author uses the tried-and-true device of time travel to bring together two very different girls who share the same name: Jane Grey.

Modern Jane is a 15-year-old Halifax girl trying to navigate the first few months of high school and a host of typical teen problems, which pale in comparison when she comes face-to-face with a girl whose life is about to come to an abrupt end.

A mysterious prayer book mixed in with a pile borrowed from the library for a school history project throws Jane through a wormhole into the world of her namesake, the doomed 16-year-old who ruled England for nine days in 1553 before her cousin Mary had her imprisoned in the Tower of London and eventually beheaded for treason.

As Jane learns about Lady Jane, both through writing her history project and her friendship with the tragic figure, the reader becomes informed as well, but the knowledge is imparted in a subtle, natural manner. Likewise, MacLeod drops tidbits of Halifax history into conversations and Jane’s descriptions of her hometown. Many books for young readers attempt similar tactics, but rarely are they executed this well.

With surprising clarity, MacLeod also captures the heightened sensitivity of teen interactions. The shifting allegiances and subsequent jealousies that define female friendships and the fickle, temporary nature of teen romance are presented realistically, without the taint of adult judgment.

The real accomplishment, however, is MacLeod’s treatment of Jane’s unpredictable relationship with her (mostly) functional alcoholic mother, Analise. Will it be a good day (“Single Mother as Hero”) or bad (“A Day When Hell Broke Loose”)? Analise is needy, yet takes little interest in her daughter’s life unless it suits her. And she is mean, with a vindictive streak that plays a major role in the book’s climax. Yet she can be loving, and despite Jane’s anger and resentment, ultimately the girl just wants her mother to get help.

It sounds like a lot of ground to cover in one slim volume, and it is, but with sensitivity and some well-placed humour, MacLeod pulls it off.”
—Dory Cerny, Q&Q’s Books for Young People editor.

Kirkus Reviews

“A modern-day Canadian girl named Jane Grey travels back in time to meet the Lady Jane Grey, imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1553.

Bookish Jane is doing research for a paper about her namesake Lady Jane Grey, the 15-year-old who was queen of England for nine days and later executed by Queen Mary. Finding an old prayer book, she reads a prayer out loud and is transported to the Tower of London, where only Lady Jane, who calls her “Namesake,” can see her. Using the prayer book to time travel at will, she becomes friends with Lady Jane and tries to think of a way to save the brilliant and innocent teenager. Meanwhile in the present, Jane tries to escape her alcoholic mother’s increasingly aggressive and bizarre behavior. When the two stories collide just before Lady Jane’s scheduled execution, Jane struggles to save herself and her friend. MacLeod writes the modern sections in a heightened style that almost feels more like poetry than prose. She writes Lady Jane’s dialogue in Tudor English, modifying it only slightly for modern readers. Her vivid descriptions of the filthy turmoil of 1553 London, when even the nobility often had lice, should open some eyes. Most importantly, she strives to get the history right.

Suspenseful, emotional and powerful.”

CM Magazine

“…In every way, this novel is a triumph. MacLeod deftly weaves the modern Jane’s contemporary story with the true-life tale of Lady Jane Grey. Both storylines are fully developed and vividly rendered, with the time-travel element simply and elegantly incorporated into the fabric of Jane’s present-day life. In so doing, the author expertly brings the history to life for her readers while concurrently crafting a poignant tale of a modern teen’s efforts to navigate the hardships of both high school and a troubled home life…Highly Recommended.
Lisa Doucet

Click here to read the full review

Canadian Family Magazine “Great Summer Reads”

“Past and present collide when a 15-year-old Halifax girl named Jane Grey slips back in time and comes face-to-face with her namesake, who ruled Tudor England for nine days before being imprisoned in the Tower of London. The girls’ bond grows with each of modern Jane’s trips back through time, as she desperately tries to prevent her new friend from meeting a tragic end.”
—DC

“This book captivated my interest with the connection between the past and the future.”
—Alissah, 16, Calgary

Canadian Children’s Book News

“Jane Grey is a student in Nova Scotia preparing a history project on her namesake, Lady Jane Grey, who was the queen of England for nine days in 1553, a political pawn in the intrigues of the Tudor era. Jane discovers Lady Jane’s Book of Prayre mixed in with her research books from the library and it carries her back to Lady Jane during the last few months of her life. The two teenagers become friends and confidants, helping each other through everything that happens in both of their lives.

MacLeod uses words sparingly and lovingly in Namesake, revealing just enough to carry the reader through the lives of both Janes, just enough to capture the imagination and draw us into the story. Her descriptions of High School ring completely true as do the times when Lady Jane is trying out modern language. The abuse suffered by both girls is also treated gently, realistic without being harrowing.

The modern Jane is strong and inventive, carrying on an active inner life and finding a way to improve her own life — even when her attempts to change 16th century events fail.

Without a misstep, Namesake proceeds from a tantalizing prologue to the satisfying conclusion. Perfectly constructed, this book is a gem.”
—Willow Moonbeam is a math professor and librarian.

Click here to learn more about Canadian Children’s Book News

Resource Links

“When Jane Grey is given the assignment to research an historic figure, she chooses her namesake, Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Day Queen who ruled England between Edward and Mary. But she doesn’t choose to be transported back in time by means of a tiny prayer book which she finds, or rather, which finds her at the public library. Lady Jane Grey is already in the Tower of London, awaiting trial. Although her namesake Jane knows how this will end, she offers her support, and travels back as often as she can. After all, Lady Jane’s faith and loyalty is a beacon of strength in comparison with Jane’s alcoholic mother and inconstant friends…

The historical details of the Tudor monarchy and everyday life in the 1500s are impressive. Kudos to MacLeod for bringing this fascinating slice of British history to Canadian teens…”
—Patricia Jermey

Amy’s Marathon of Books

“…Where reading non-fiction books can at times be dry and daunting, fiction opens up the same topics in a new way, providing characters a reader can personally connect with interspersed with historical facts.

Sue MacLeod’s Namesake is a spectacular example of this. I loved the way she took some liberties with Lady Jane’s story, while still staying true to the historical aspects. MacLeod also manages to make Jane and Lady Jane’s characters equally fleshed out and relatable.

…I would recommend this book more for early teen readers, but it’s a must read for lovers of historical fiction.”

Click here to read the full review

Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers reviews Namesake

“…you’ll grow close to both young ladies as they explore each other’s lives in the here and there.  You’ll grow to understand both their positions and the choices they make regarding their own fates.  You’ll realize that it’s not just a history project in the making nor a chance to see life as it once was, but a story that reminds us that everyone has difficult times in life…”

Click here to read the full review

Books in the Spotlight

“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 trope by having both Janes interact and take active roles in each other’s lives, even to the point of altering history if that could save their friendship… I really think you get a sense of who Lady Jane was as as person, a girl who died for her beliefs and who couldn’t fight to change her fate. I’m really glad that the author chose a figure in the Tudor history who isn’t necessarily scandalous and who isn’t all that removed from the main character’s age, to share their lives and their stories, and developing their new friendship which both of them needed desperately. Though the ending of Lady Jane’s story is heartbreaking, it sparks a change in present day Jane…”
—Rummanah Aasi

Click here to read the full review

Ramblings of a Daydreamer

“…I thought MacLeod did a really good job of weaving the past together with the present. I always worry that books like this will get confusing with the back and forth, but I had no trouble keeping up with Namesake. I enjoyed watching Jane’s life in the present, and I eagerly anticipated each of her visits to the past, since I’ve always been fascinated with Tudor era England…Namesake is a captivating story that is sure to please fans of contemporary young adult and historic fiction alike.”
—Marie Landry

Click here to read the full review

CanLit for LittleCanadians

“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…

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…

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.”
—Helen Kubiw

Click here to read the full post

Young Reviewers: Michaela

“Hey, I am Michaela, I am a grade 8 student from Trillium Woods E.S. I have been given the opportunity to read the book Namesake by Sue Macleod for this blog. This book is about a young teenager Jane Grey, who is living in Halifax with her dysfunctional mother. Ever since Jane’s dad passed away in a motorcycling accident, Jane’s mom has been acting more and more moody every day. Jane’s life starts to change when her history teacher introduces a new project to her. She has to research any interesting person from history, She decides to research Lady Jane Grey, who ruled Tudor England for 9 days. Jane is writing her history paper when she finds the Book Of Prayre, Lady Jane’s prayer book, mixed in with her library books. She reads a passage out loud and is suddenly in 16th Century England. She meets Lady Jane Grey, and the two of them form a true friendship. Jane finds herself returning into the past continuosly, she is trying to forget her own problems. As Jane gets more enveloped in the past, can she fix both her own problems as well as Lady Jane Grey’s? I thought this was a well written book, and the author successfully made us understand the language that they spoke back in the 16th century. In the beginning, there were a few slow parts, but the end is amazing! Overall it was a very enjoyable book, and you will have to read this book to find out yourself!”

Click here to read the full post