Just a Girl – Jackie French




Harper Collins Australia

        ISBN: 9781460753095

  ISBN 10: 1460753097


August 2018

RRP: $16.99

Hail Mary,
Full of Grace,
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit
of thy womb, Jesus.

I’m not a Catholic – and though I was raised an Anglican I am not particularly religious in the Christian sense. However, since losing a child I do feel an affinity with Mary, who was a real person who lost her son in a terrible way.  Moreover I am fascinated by ancient history and in particular the ‘story behind the stories of the Bible’.

I am repeatedly awe-struck at Jackie French’s unparalleled ability to breathe life into history and this new narrative is no exception. I spent a few hours of my weekend on a sojourn in Roman-occupied Judea, circa 71 AD, and my senses were fully transported by Jackie’s marvelous writing: the warmth of the Middle Eastern sun, the chill of the winter rain, the surrounding smells of grass and goat and the hazy wood smoke, the taste of dried figs and sweetened wine and the dreadful clashing of swords and screams of victims.

Judith is fourteen years old, one of four daughters – two older and one younger – living with her mother and great-grandmother in a small rural village. With all their men and older boys away as part of the rebellion against Rome, the village women have had to adapt to different ways and in particular, Judith now relishes her role in minding the sheep and expertly using her slingshot to hunt meat for her family.

When her great-grandmother Rabba wakes her one night and demands to be taken down to the wadi and then sends Judith back for her little sister, the two girls have no idea that Rabba’s foreboding of disaster is about to eventuate.

The entire village razed by a ruthless Roman legion, the three survivors remain concealed safely in a cave, long ago prepared by Rabba and before long are joined by a young Roman slave as well as their rather reluctant goat.

The icy winter that follows with its many trials and struggles to overcome is often relieved by Rabba’s story-telling and feasts around the fire. In particular Caius, a ‘secret’ Christian all his life, longs to hear more of Rabba’s childhood friend Maryiam of Nazareth but Rabba is always reticent about the woman. When Rabba finally tells her story it becomes clear that the simple village girl who became the mother of Jesus was gentle, loving and courageous, and a faithful friend. Rabba herself is scornful of the ‘messiah myth’, her only interest being that of the woman who was her childhood friend and a good person.

People tend to forget that many bible characters were real historical people given the mystique with which many of them are imbued. For me it is the fascination of piecing together shards of information to build a picture of the actual circumstances (hence quite an addiction to documentaries on the history channel!).

Jackie has taken what little actual detail about the person is available about Maryiam/Mary,  and woven it with general factual information of the times to create a thoroughly plausible account of one family’s survival against the might of the Roman Empire.

This book will hold a valuable place on any library shelf or indeed, home bookshelf. I will be particularly promoting it to our Study of Religion and History teachers as part of my ‘read around your topic’ encouragement.

I highly recommend it to you for readers from around Year 5 upwards.

Teaching notes also available Just a Girl TNs FINAL

3 responses »

  1. Thank you- have been terrified for this book, weaving long researched history with fiction as a way to give a sense of Mary/Maryiam’s life. You have read it as I dreamed it might be read and understood. Impossible to thank you enough.

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