Thursday, February 25, 2010

Alphabet in Historical Fiction: F is for French

Not F for French as in someone from France, but F for French, as in Jackie French, who is a very prolific Australian YA author! She writes all sorts of novels, including some adult novels, YA historical fiction, straight YA novels, non fiction and picture books. And that adds up to good news for me as I work my way slowly through at least some of her backlist!

I am going to post about my impressions of The Night They Stormed Eureka by Jackie French.

Here is the book blurb:

It's 1854 and, on the Ballarat goldfields, men are willing to risk their lives to find freedom and make their fortunes in the mine.

Sam, a homeless teenager, is called back to the past to join the Puddlehams, who run 'the best little cook shop on the diggings'. The Puddlehams dream of buying a hotel with velvet seats, while others dream of freedom from the government with its corrupt officials and brutal soldiers.

As the summer days get hotter, and the miners' protests are ignored with catastrophic results, Sam experiences first-hand the power of a united stand, which will change her life forever.

Jackie French's fresh look at an event entrenched in our nation heritage will touch and surprise every reader.

First an introduction. I had heard of Jackie French, but must confess that I often would get her confused with an Australian actress called Jackie Weaver. Last year, I participated in Book Smugglers YA Appreciation month, and asked for recommendations for YA historical fiction, and for YA by Australian authors. It must have been while I was visiting other participants that I discovered that Jackie French who met both criteria, and so I had to request a book from the library catalogue by her!

What I didn't realise when I first requested the book, is that this was actually a time travel novel. When we first meet Sam, she is a very unhappy, lonely teenage runaway. She is hiding in the cemetery and finds herself curled up on a gravestone of a couple called the Puddlehams. When she wakes up, she finds herself in a very different time and place - the Victorian Goldfields during the 1850s.

The goldfields are no place for a young girl, and Sam soon finds herself pretending to be a boy, and being taken under the wing of Mr and Mrs Puddleham. Mr Puddleham used to be a butler for Queen Victoria before he followed Mrs Puddleham to Australia. They quickly realised that they wouldn't make their fortune by panning for gold, but rather that they could make enough money to follow their dreams by running a cookshop on the diggings, or rather, the best cookshop on the diggings.

Sam is soon drafted in to help in the cookshop, and soon begins to make friends - not only with the Puddlehams, but also with the eccentric former professor, and a local half-caste boy. She finds it difficult to equate some of the things that happen to her friends with her 21st century experience.

The goldfields were a very volatile place with corruption and violence rife, and with tensions rising, it was only a matter of time before there would be trouble. Sam knows what tragedy is coming, and she hopes to keep those that she loves from being caught up. With the principles of freedom and justice at stake though, it is difficult and Sam finds herself at the encampment as the time approaches for the confrontation between the miners and the authorities.

The Eureka Stockade is one of the iconic events of Australian history. Whilst the actual stockade wasn't a success, the events that occurred there were the catalyst for change that helped build the foundations of Australian society particularly in terms of the right for non land owners to vote (just the men at this point). It was also where the Eureka flag was used for the first time as a banner to rally around. Even today, the Eureka flag is used by some of the trade unions as a symbol.

Whilst Sam brings us a bird's eye view of the events that lead up to the Eureka Stockade, she is also learning valuable life lessons like being able to ask for help when you need it, and about learning to love, and to accept love from others, but not without having to deal with sorrow along the way.

I definitely intend to read more from Jackie French. I am starting with a series about animals being present at major events in history. The first book in that series, The Goat Who Travelled the World is on my TBR pile to get to soon, and is about a goat that travels with the First Fleet to Australia (or New South Wales as it was known then).

Not only does this book qualify as my read for this letter in the Alphabet in Historical Fiction, it also qualifies as one of my reads for the Aussie Author Challenge, the Year of the Historical Challenge, and the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Rating: 4/5


  1. ohmigosh! MARG! im so super excited by this alphabet post! i've never heard of Jackie French before, but as i scrolled down i got more and more intrigued. im slowly adding more YA to my diet and i ADORE time travels and ADORE EVEN MORE when girls are disguised as boys and get experience things that a normal girl wouldn't. wow, this is quite the discovery for me, just added it to my library holds list ;)

  2. What a cool discovery! I love finding little gems about lesser-known historical events in lesser-studied places. Keep your Henry VIII, I'll take the gold fields of nineteenth-century Australia, please! I might have to dig up some of her work for myself...and I love having an arsenal of good YA authors on hand for the younger folks in my life :)

  3. I have no idea how readily available Jackie French's books are outside of Australia. Good luck finding some!

    Lustyreader, this sounds like it could be a good suggestion for you!

  4. Jackie French is a gardening legend and has the most amaaaaazing property near Braidwood, just south of Goulburn on the NSW Southern Tablelands.

    She's been a prolific author for nearly 30 years (if my memory serves me right)and I remember her popping up on Burke's Backyard in its heyday.She used to have a monthly column in the Women's Weekly, too.

    In fact, I think Jackie's book The Chook Book (now there's a challenge for US readers.. just what is a chook?) is one of the biggest selling 'gardening/self-sufficiency' books ever printed in Australia. You want to know what's wrong with your chooks? Consult Jackie's bible!

    I know I'm waxing lyrical here, but Jackie's gardening and self sufficiency book and her eccentric and warm persona are all I can think of when I see her name.

    She is a national treasure!

  5. Oooo, sounds great! I hope I can find the book here. Thanks :D

  6. I haven't heard of Jackie French either but her books certainly sound the sort of thing I'd like so I'll have to do some sleuthing in the library.

    I did a Library Loot this week but for some reason I can 't get the your post to show up.

  7. I like the sound of this book and since I love time travel books, this one gets extra points. It is a bit difficult to find though. I am going to have to search a bit harder!

  8. Do they explain how she time travels in the book, or is it a thing where she's in the present day one minute and then in the past without an explanation? She simply wakes up and she's there.

  9. She falls asleep on the gravestone, and there is an eery wind which she feels when she is going to travel in time.

  10. Just how I imagined it would work :)

  11. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I've been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


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