Title: Just a Girl
Author: Jackie French
Published: August 20th 2018
Publisher: Harper Collins Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Children, Historical
Rating: 4 stars
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a truly extraordinary woman. And after 2000 years, the story of her brave and remarkable life continues to inspire and enthrall us, as that young woman from Nazareth was
never ‘just a girl’.
In 72 AD, as the Roman army pillages Judea and destroys their village, fourteen-year-old Judith hides
her younger sister, her great-grandmother Rabba, a Roman slave called Caius and an unwilling goat in a cave used to store food.
Judith’s skills will save them as wolves – and humans – threaten the group during that long, icy winter. There are feasts to enjoy as they listen to Rabba tell stories of her youth; of her wealthy marriage in Jerusalem and her life in Nazareth as a child.
But there is one story Rabba will not tell, no matter how much they coax her. It is the story of Maryiam, her beloved friend who faced the scandal and shame of an unwed pregnancy and the anguish of watching the crucifixion.
And it is Maryiam’s example that will give Judith, her sister and Caius the courage to step beyond their refuge. Because like Judith, Maryiam of Nazareth was never ‘just a girl’.
With so many great female figures in history, known and unknown, they should never be considered as ‘just a girl’. With such a meaningful title, prolific Australian storyteller Jackie French explores the hidden history of Mary or Maryiam, mother of Jesus. In this process, French presents the compelling story of Judith, a young girl finding her feet at a time of great change. Just a Girl is perfect for upper school readers, but adult readers will also appreciate this finely researched tale.
Along with figures such as Joan of Arc, Mary of Nazareth is perhaps one of the most famous women in history. Respected author Jackie French has delved into the history books to produce a tale that intertwines the life of Maryiam, mother of Jesus, with a young fourteen year old Judea girl. At first the link between the two is unclear, but as the story progresses we learn of how and why these two women are inextricably linked. French transports the reader to the time 72 AD, the roman army has charged villages and Judea. Young Judith manages to escape their clutches and seeks shelter in a cave, once used for food stores. In this cave, Judith is joined by her sister, great-grandmother and later on a roman slave called Caius. For food, the group rely on a sole goat and their resourcefulness. This is a perilous time, defined by ill weather, animal threats and further attacks from the roman army. But somehow this brave group survives and as the days pass by, Judith’s great grandmother Rabba reveals a fascinating personal history which includes her early days, her marriage and eventually her defining time in Nazareth. These are all told via campfire effigies. But Judith and Caius are drawn to the story of Mary of Nazareth, mother of Jesus, who also happened to be friends with Rabba. Rabba is reluctant to reveal this painful story, as it is marred by scorn and incredible loss. Maryiam’s inspiring tale changes Judith and Caius’ outlook and together they find the courage from within the step out of the refuge of their cave and into the new world.
Just a Girl is a book aimed at readers aged from ages 10 up, but it can easily be enjoyed by an older audience. Just a Girl offers a good balance of history, touches of religion and introspection. But most of all, this inspiring tale is a welcome source of encouragement to young females, to help them see that no matter where you are situated, the time, place, or religious creed, you are never ‘just a girl’ you can be and so much more!
Although I read the proof copy of Just a Girl, the finished product is striking. The purple cover with the bright gold shining star of Bethlehem that adorns the front is certainly eye-catching. The story within this book is bold too. Readers will discover a rich story of ancient history, resurrected real life historical figures, combined with moments of pulse pounding danger and unity. This is a full narrative for a young reader to lap up and unconsciously learn about our all important past along the way. I must urge readers of Just a Girl to devote some time to reading the extensive author notes contained at the back of this book. This is a fascinating bonus extra, covering everything you need to know on languages, food, betrothals, clothing and even recipes of the time to try. I was impressed by this unexpected bonus gift.
Initially, I was wondering where Just a Girl was going to go, I was immediately expecting a story based on Mary of Nazareth, who we know as the mother of Jesus. However, Judith’s story is quite fascinating. It is blindingly obvious Jackie French has devoted much time and effort into drawing on her primary sources to weave historical fact around an accessible narrative. I did feel a little embarrassed that as an adult, I know very little about Maryiam myself, or the time period which this story is set. The influences and behaviour of the roman army appalled me. It makes Judith’s story of survival quite amazing indeed! But what I enjoyed most about Just a Girl was the use of the oral stories, passed on by Judith’s great grandmother to both Judith and Caius. These rousing anecdotes prove to be life changing for the characters of this book.
The spirit is strong with this heartfelt tale of strength, overcoming adversity, inspiration, survival and power. In the capable hands of experienced storyteller Jackie French, let Just a Girl carry you away to the sights, sounds and moving experiences of Judith, her family and companions in times past. I recommend Just a Girl to all open minded readers, of any age.
Just a Girl by Jackie French was published on 20th August 2018 by Harper Collins Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Just a Girl, Jackie French visit here.
*I wish to thank Harper Collins Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Just a Girl, is book #120 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge