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GRACE by Jill Paton Walsh


by Jill Paton Walsh

Age Range: 11 & up

Pub Date: June 3rd, 1992
ISBN: 0-374-32758-0
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 At dawn on a stormy morning in 1838, Grace Darling, 22, a lighthouse keeper's daughter off England's northeast coast, spied a wreck and nine survivors. Knowing the lifeboat from shore would be too late to save them and that if none of the castaways could help on the return journey the rescuers too would perish, she and her father--in a heroic rescue--used a boat normally rowed by three men. When the lifeboat arrived at the lighthouse, its crew was furious at losing the rescue bounty. Thus began an even greater test of Grace's character: extraordinary nationwide adulation for her brave deed, bafflingly countered by neighbors' jealousy and anger. Though she invents dialogue and centers on Grace's honest and conscientious moral struggle, Paton Walsh's splendid narrative of this true event is as much an imaginative reconstruction as a novel, frequently using direct quotes from contemporary accounts, journals, and letters. The portrait that emerges is imbued with vibrant reality; as gifts (including money) and letters pour in and the curious throng her home, Grace responds with intelligence, dignity, and integrity, never losing her fundamental independence and good sense. Still, she is deeply troubled by self-doubt: Were her motives pure, or had she thought of a reward? The many misconstructions of this thorny issue dramatize the period's social structure and prejudices (the condescension of a duke toward Grace's class and a parson toward her sex are sure to raise hackles); in the end, as Grace is dying (at 26) from consumption, she has the liberating realization that ``no money has ever been minted which could pay for such conduct.'' Vivid, fascinating, and written with this author's usual artistry and skill. A provocative contrast to Avi's Nothing But the Truth (1991). (Fiction. 11+)