Just a girl by Jackie French

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Angus and Robertson, 2018. ISBN 9781460753095
(Age: 12 - 16) Highly recommended. Themes: Historical fiction. Roman history. Survival. Persecution. Courage. Siblings. Jewish people. Mary (mother of Jesus). Jackie French is a master of storytelling and in this book she immerses us in the daily life of a Jewish girl in Judea in 71AD. Judith's daily life has changed since the men from her village have gone to fight in Jerusalem and she must take up tasks normally not allowed by girls - minding sheep and using a sling-shot to kill small animals for her family. Little does she realise how much different it will become when two Roman chariots pass her small village.
As predicted by Rabba, (Judith's great, great grandmother) the village is looted and destroyed by the Romans the following day. Judith is saved when Rabba tells Judith to take her, her little sister and the goat away from the village during the night to a very well-stocked cave nearby. When a Roman slave comes close to the cave Judith uses her sling-shot to protect them and he falls over a cliff. He is left for dead by his Roman masters and is rescued by Judith and joins the others in the cave for the long winter. The slave is a Christian and is curious to find out about a special woman Rabba mentions as she tells them stories of her life. The girl is Maryiam from Nazareth (the mother of Jesus) but Rabba is reluctant to talk too freely about the relationship she may have had with Mary who she describes as "just a girl" from her village. Mary's story is slowly revealed as a life of someone with the courage to overcome the humiliation of her unexplained pregnancy and the loss of her son in such violent circumstances. This account from the Jewish point of view makes it a very interesting novel.
At the end of the book there are comprehensive author's notes about the history behind this story. It also explains some of the language, food and other customs.
Gabrielle Anderson