Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Swan Town: The Secret Journal of Susanna Shakespeare

Swan Town: The Secret Journal of Susanna Shakespeare

Michael J. Ortiz
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
HarperCollins, 2006   ISBN: 978-0060581268

Although Susanna loves her family and her home, and although she is very proud of her playwright father, she is, at times, also quite frustrated by her life. Why must women live quiet retiring lives as daughters, mothers, sisters, and wives? Why can’t they have more important, more glamorous roles in life? Why can’t they too be actors and writers? Chaffing under the restrictions imposed on her by society and her parents, Susanna chooses to write down all her thoughts and feelings in a journal and she also decides that the country is ready for a play written by a woman, written by her. In this play Susanna hopes to show her audience how twisted their society is, how wrong it is that a despotic queen can impose a religion on her people, a religion which some of her people do not embrace as their own.

For, Susanna and her family are followers of the “old faith” preferring the rites and traditions of the Catholic Church to the new protestant faith favored by the crown. At this time it is highly dangerous to practice the old faith and Catholics risk being imprisoned and horribly tortured to death if they are caught practicing their faith or helping other Catholics to hide from the authorities. The members of Shakespeare’s family do all of these things, living in fear that they will be discovered but knowing in their hearts that this is the right thing to do.

Cooking, cleaning, gardening, writing, and thinking, Susanna wonders if she will ever leave her quiet and boring life in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Then, one day Susanna’s life is turned upside down. When her uncle is imprisoned in London Susanna goes to the great city to help her father and her real adventures begin in earnest. Susanna quickly discovers that life is not as simple as she thought it was and that danger can lie in the most unexpected places.

Against the backdrop of a country divided by religion Susanna’s gripping story unfolds to reveal a world where everyone has to be careful of what they say and do. For those of us who have become complacent about our own freedoms of speech and religion, this is a startling story to read and one which reminds that such freedoms are truly priceless. Susanna’s voice is a wonderful reflection of her bright, sometimes incautious personality, and we cannot help warming to her as she swears, plans, makes mistakes, tries to correct her mistakes, falls in love, and gets into all kinds of difficult situations.