The Journal of Jasper Jonathan Pierce ~ SUE PIAZZA’s BOOK REVIEW

The Journal of Jasper Jonathan Pierce by Ann Rinaldi
Scholastic Inc., NY
Bookmarkers: 5 of 5
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Ann Rinaldi, award winning historical writer, has done it again. This book is about a trip, an adventure and the lives that changed the world.

Two brothers, Jonathan and Tom, journey to America in the 1600s. Jonathan is on the Mayflower, Tom, the Speedwell. The Speedwell is forced to turn back twice, the second time for leaking. This diary is an account from the voyaging brother to the brother left behind.
There are 102 passengers onboard the Mayflower, they’re divided into Saints and Strangers. The Saints are separatists. After spending years in Leyden, Holland due to religious persecution in England this group of individuals leave for the New World there they will be able to practice their religion as they see fit. Strangers are those individuals that remain loyal to the Church of England. Though this book has elements of religion as its basis, it is a story of exploration and mystery. People head out to parts unknown to encounter events they have never done nor would have been able to do in England.

En route to America the Mayflower battles a near crippling storm resulting in spoiled vittles: moldy biscuits, rancid butter and things crawling in their food. Beer, their only source of untainted liquids, began to sour as well. Besides foodstuff ruined, bedding and their already limited clothing become waterlogged.

We are given the backstory and personal family histories of those aboard the Mayflower and once they reach land the natives are included in this scenario. Lives dissected are explored in the context of the times. Many known individuals are mentioned: Miles Standish, Gov. Bradford, Squanto, Chief Massasoit to name a few.

Besides giving me their past lives, we are told what happened to not only them but also to their descendants. As of the book’s writing, six presidents can trace their ancestry back to those who came over on the Mayflower.

The sprinkling of historical details informs while entertaining. We are privy to the first Thanksgiving, shown, how the natives taught the newcomers how to successfully plant crops, and much more.

As the settlement progresses, we learn that only Saints could vote on important issues in the village. To vote one had to pass a test and answer religious questions in keeping with the Saints’ beliefs. Those who did not reply as the Saints expected were “warned out” of the village. This laid the seeds for the witchcraft hysteria that follows.

I enjoyed the writing style; it is the perfect medium to deliver this type of information to young adults. While I cannot attest to all the historical elements in this novel they do make for an exciting read.

This diary is written in present day language and style. it’s important to note that reading documents from the 1600s can be quite challenging “s” was written as an “f” for example so words do not always look and sound as we would expect them to. Penned as if it was 1620, young adults, for whom this book’s audience appears to be, probably would not get past the first few pages if written in early English.

However, I would have liked to have some words, I’m assuming them to be the parts of the ship, explained, maybe a glossary or just a one-word explanation.

Were liberties taken with what words were attributed to people? Unless they are in quotes, say from a historical document, one can only assume liberties were taken. Should this bother the reader? I don’t think so. The relevant material appears intact, the extraneous bits are irrelevant, merely backfill for the story. Example: did two troublemakers really call Jonathan, the diarist, a “wharf rat?” I’m not sure it matters. For me, it’s not germane to the comings and goings of those on the Mayflower or the natives they encountered.

I have more of a problem with some words attributed to 13-year-old Jonathan. Examples: “languished” and “recommencing.” Would these really be in his vocabulary?

One point drew me out of the story, the ink. Jonathan falls into an animal trap. Saved by friendly natives and taken to their village he begins writing in his journal again. The bottle didn’t break? Ink spill? Other than this and the diarist’s vocabulary, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s a good one to curl up with while sipping a hot cup of cocoa on a cold winter’s evening.


Susan Piazza, a Navy veteran, is an author, columnist, and blogger. Book One in her historical Ongoing Indigenous Tale series “A Bird Call That Isn’t,” can be found on Amazon at:
A Bird Call That Isn’t :
Her new book Destiny’s Daughter, the second book in the series, will be out February 2023. ◊