CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 11. . . .November 18, 2016
Convictions is a story about survival through extreme hardship and what it takes to overcome such trials with your integrity intact. This novel is historical fiction, set in 1842, and follows the journey of protagonist Jennie Lawrence as she is taken away from family, and everything familiar, as unfair punishment for a crime committed out of desperation. Jennie is 14-years-old when she is convicted and sentenced to a period of hard labour in Van Deimen’s land—19th century Tazmania—for stealing a rotten bag of oats from her neighbour’s garbage. She joins dozens of other convicted women on her voyage. Some, when viewed through the eyes of Jennie, seem deserving of their punishments, but others, among them the old and frail, new mothers and their babies, and young children, showcase the harsh realities of an unfair penal code in 19th century Britain.
Silverthorne’s use of language and her choice of highly descriptive settings almost transform this historical fiction into a dark fantasy. The conditions aboard the ship, such as the cramped, compact space, the dirt, the illness, the treatment of the guards, can be a shocking experience for the reader, especially to one who has little knowledge of how dangerous, and oftentimes deadly, a sea voyage was in the mid-nineteenth century. When placed against the light nature of Jennie’s crime, her punishment seems especially cruel and unfair. But this is a harsh and historically accurate world that Silverthorne creates, and it allows for an immediate emphatic response. Jennie is a sympathetic character straight from chapter one. These harsh conditions also play a beautiful contrast to the strength and determination Jennie displays later in the book.
The title, Convictions, alludes to many aspects of the book, with strength of will being the most obvious. A more subtle, but equally important, element of the story is how Jennie’s convictions regarding religion and worldview are challenged. Silverthorne often pits prejudice against reality, demonstrating how a person is defined by their character and actions, not their profession or culture. Jennie’s fellow convicts are a diverse cast of characters, but two in particular really work to break down her convictions of others: Lizzie, a prostitute, and Kate, an Irish woman. Jennie creates a bond with Lizzie that rises against her initial disgust of her profession. Kate, on the other hand, puzzles Lizzie with her kind heart and gentle nature, contradicting Jennie’s societal prejudice against the Irish. Perhaps the best lesson Silverthorne teaches with this book is through Jennie’s decision to alter her convictions to reflect a more tolerant and fair view of those around her. Ultimately, humanity breaks down barriers of cultural fear, prejudice, and hate when faced with the struggle for survival.
Convictions is an excellent read for teenagers aged 13 and up. The pace of the novel is fairly steady with a dramatic rising action and unexpected twists. Jennie is a keen observer, her voice reserved for what she sees rather than simply addressing what she feels, which broadens the story to include the suffering of all the women in the book. At times, the descriptions may be a touch graphic, with a detailed account of torture and other sufferings, yet these descriptions heighten the emotions created by the story. All in all, the messages conveyed by Convictions makes it a book worth reading.
Stephanie Buosi is a speculative fiction writer and anthology editor for Erebus Press.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.