Adventures of Mary Jane

Delacorte. Jun. 2024. 464p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780593484111.
Gr 7 Up–In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain gives a scant 30-or-so pages to Mary Jane, “the red-headed one.” Twain’s readers are left with the confidence that Mary Jane has stolen Huck’s heart, but no backstory to explain how or why this should be so. In this companion piece to Twain’s classic, Jahren delivers Mary Jane’s story in vivid, heart-pounding, nail-biting, soul-stirring detail. It is 1846, and the trading posts and military outposts of northern Minnesota are the only world that 14-year-old Mary Jane Guild has ever known. Her world changes suddenly when a letter from Aunt Evelyn prompts her mother and Morfar (Swedish for grandfather) to send her on a mission of mercy. Mary Jane travels the Mississippi River from Minnesota to Illinois and on to Mississippi and back again. Along the way, she makes friends and foes, learns what it does and does not mean to believe in God and be given to good works, finds the value of the truth, the utility of a good lie, and discovers who she is and where she most belongs. Jahren’s first foray into historical fiction is as meticulously researched as her nonfiction narratives without ever seeming tedious or pedantic.
VERDICT This imaginative retelling of the story of Huck’s red-headed sweetheart is a rollicking adventure full of rich characterizations that will be enjoyed by junior high and high school readers regardless of whether they have read the book that inspired it.

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