Queens Never Make Bargains
Red Barn Books of Vermont, 2014
In the author’s preface, Nancy Means Wright catches readers interest immediately by relating there’s a skeleton in her family closet, and that her grandmother, Jessie Menzies, sailed to New York City in 1912 when she was seventeen to take care of her half-sister’s children. The author shares that “I’ve admittedly woven attributes of certain family members and friends into a collage in the novel, and then added in myself at various ages.” (p. viii)
The novel is divided into four parts: 1912-1919; 1924-1931; 1935-1943; August, 1945; each beginning with a quotation from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—the novel’s title is by the Red Queen.
Jessie’s mother is clear to us in the first paragraph of Chapter 1 with “her face pale under the tight braids that looped about her head and stretched the skin so tight I thought it might snap from the pressure.” (p. 3) Readers are drawn in with such passages as when Jessie left her home in Scotland to America she “folded myself numbly into my grandmother’s flour-and-cinnamon embrace.” (p.17)
The novel’s clear and easy style is for young adults as well as adults. Scotland is close to the reader as in the beginning of Chapter 1’s celebration at the beach on the Firth of Forth that flowed from Leven, Fifeshire, out to the North Sea. Children are called bairns and other Scotch words such as ay for yes. Jessie’s classmates are characters that could be at our local school with the same adolescent problems and situations. The scenes at the beach of teenage angst and humor are real. Her arrival in the United States at Ellis Island echoes the experiences of many of our ancestors; the new friends in Vermont are as vibrant and real as our own neighbors.
The importance of nationality such as Polish, Czecks, French, Russian, Italian, Scotch as well as being a certain religion is clearly evident to the characters. Feminism comes through with such character observations as: “Every generation had its wars. History books were organized around them. What if someone were to write a woman’s history? I thought. How much would the wars figure in then?” (p.63)
I would have liked a table of contents; a time line with the 1918 flu pandemic, Jean Harlow, Lindberg, Hitler, and several of the other important people/events included that would be helpful. Also a genealogical table showing the four generations. It is a story that is especially appealing for girls and women because of their close association with family and relationships.
It is only a skilled author who can write novels that can be read by youth and adults with equal enjoyment; the author’s teaching and acting background has served her well. Her power with words has also made her a popular poet, mystery, and nonfiction writer with many books in print available for the reading public. Another new book by this multi award winning writer is Acts of Balance (Finishing Line Press, 2014). Readers of all ages will appreciate that the author’s characters are true to human nature and their experiences reflect the first part of the twentieth century in the generational saga.