Archive for the ‘Watson, Sally’ Category

Jade by Sally Watson ~ 1969. This edition: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1969. Hardcover. 270 pages.

I had the good fortune to be in elementary and high school during the 1970s, when Canadian public school library budgets were generous and the collections vast and varied.

During these formative reading years, I toted home large stacks of books, many of them fated to be read by illicit flashlight after mandatory lights-out time.

Sometimes my flashlight batteries gave out, and I also remember crouching in the hallway outside my bedroom surreptitiously reading by the faint gleam of a plug-in night light. I tried my best to be silent and unnoticeable, but my timing was sometimes off and I occasionally was busted by my dad, who was not particularly impressed by my initiative. My bookwormish ways were inherited directly from him, but he was the adult and I a mere child, with school and chores the next day, and he chose to view my nocturnal reading activitity as an act of rebellion against his preferred status quo, and his rebukes were memorably stern.

Which perhaps might be one of the reasons I felt such a strong kinship with the heroines of Sally Watson. She specialized in well-researched historical fictions with strong, teenage female leads, and perhaps the most memorable of all of these was the unquenchable Melanie Lennox, a.k.a. “Jade”: green-eyed, opinionated and outspoken sixteen-year-old resident of colonial Williamsburg, circa 1721.

Jade gets up to all sorts of unladylike adventures, and anyone familiar with this genre will nod in recognition when I mention that young Jade gloried in the forbidden-for-females actions of rising astride, dressing up in boy’s clothing,  learning fencing on the sly, and, most audaciously in the society and era that she lived in, railing against the evils of slavery.

Jade finally goes too far and is shipped off to Jamaica to reside with her fluttery aunt and stern Prussian uncle. Uncle Augustus is well known for his mastery of horses, slaves and women; he will surely be able to tame one small teenage girl.


Jumping over all sorts of detail, I will merely divulge that after some adventuring our Jade finds herself a member of a pirate ship’s crew, eventually plying her skill with a rapier alongside none other than Anne Bonny and Mary Read.

As far as juvenile fiction of the 1960s and 70s went, Sally Watson’s work was pretty darned decent, enough so that I remember in quite vivid detail, some forty years later, episodes from all of her novels.

Sally Watson’s bent was historical fiction, with characters linked in quite creative ways as she passed through the centuries from the 1500s onward. Though Sally Watson was American, born in Seattle in 1924, she had a special fondness for all things Scottish, and at least two of her novels were set in Scotland, with the ancestors of those heroines popping up in other places in her tales.

I started my current reading of Jade with some trepidation, hoping that it would reward me with the thrill that my long-ago twelve-year-old self experienced during those stolen midnight reading hours. Alas! the magic was not quite recaptured, though every word was as familiar as yesterday.

This said, I would be most open to reacquainting myself with the rest of Sally Watson’s long-lost tales. They were snapped up quickly as library shelves were purged during the great school library downsizings of the 1990s and beyond, and hardcover ex-library copies are ridiculously scarce, but a republishing of some titles by Image Cascade has put Sally Watson back into circulation.

I’ve just ordered a copy of Sally Watson’s autobiography, Dance to a Different Piper, published in 2015, and I must say I am looking forward to learning more about this opinionated and multi-talented writer, as the biographical snippets gleaned from the endpapers of her books are most intriguing: a membership in Mensa, extensive traveling, Highland dancing, judo, cats, fencing and gardening are all noted as strong interests of this well-rounded individual.

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