In 1769, Jane Clarke, a sheltered young woman of twenty-two, is sent away to Boston after defying her father's wish to marry the man of his choosing. Taking up the role of caretaker for her elderly Aunt Gill at her home near the Custom House, Jane has difficulty adjusting to her abrupt change of surroundings: the unceasing clamor of the streets, the British soldiers quartered among the populace, and the odd behavior of her aunt's house servants. She also ponders her father's legal troubles, the result of a longstanding feud with his neighbors over millstream privileges. Noted lawyer John Adams, for whom Jane's brother Nate works as a clerk, represents her father in his suit, but does he think him innocent? And was Mr. Clarke really vicious enough to cut off the ears of his rival's horse? Jane doesn't know what or whom to believe.
When Aunt Gill makes it clear she’s not a loyalist like Jane’s father, Jane awakens to the revolutionary fervor around her and begins forming her own opinions. Tempers run high; native Bostonians upset over unfair taxes antagonize the Redcoats, and newspapers turn harmless incidents into patriotic propaganda. Working through her feelings for two different suitors, and weighing family loyalties against her own observations, Jane's rebellion soon becomes as much political as personal. Her closest allies prove to be a couple well versed in challenging society's expectations: her grandmother (stepmother's mother), Lyddie Freeman, and her lawyer/legislator husband, Eben.
Gunning describes daily life in pre-Revolutionary Boston with conviction and ease, interspersing historical characters with her fictional ones and including rich details that enhance the larger picture. Readers will find their modern surroundings falling away, to be replaced by scenes of an 18th-century city where people travel briskly on foot and by carriage, dine on plain pudding and greens, and read Richardson's Clarissa by candlelight. Though she writes with understated elegance, her story has a strong inner core. As the narrative sheds fresh light on the struggles of the little-known men and women who took part in America's founding, it paints period atmosphere in multiple shades of gray and exposes the realities behind the popular mythology of the American Revolution.
In this well-rendered portrait of a woman's coming of age amid turbulent times, Jane explores the real meaning of truth and home and comes to realize that family is defined by more than blood relationships. A historical novel of integrity and substance, The Rebellion of Jane Clarke is a fitting showcase for a heroine of similar mettle.
Sally Gunning's The Rebellion of Jane Clarke was published June 1st by William Morrow (HarperCollins) at $24.99. It can be read either as a standalone novel or as the latest entry in a series following The Widow's War and Bound. The links lead to my earlier reviews of both books.