Canadian Children's Book News Review - Convictions

Reviewed by: Naomi Szeben

In 1842, prison ships would carry women from England to a penal colony in Australia for crimes as petty as stealing garbage. What made it more tragic was that many children were tried for such crimes, and were convicted as adults.

Judith Silverthorne's novel Convictions illustrates how justice has evolved in protecting the vulnerable. She focuses her story on 14-year-old Jennie, whose starvation had her tried and punished for stealing moldy oats. On the ship, she befriends 10-year-old Alice, and a grandmotherly protector, Sarah. Together, they band together to survive verbal attacks from hardened criminals and physical attacks from prison guards. Vivid descriptions of seasickness and prisoner violence contrast sharply against the protagonist's hopes. 

This book may general eye-rolls as little Alice remains unflinchingly selfless in the face of countless hardships. However, it may serve as a vehicle to discuss the advent of women's rights and the changes that the Suffrage movement made for free and imprisoned women. Another theme for classroom discussion could revolve around how the criminal codes have changed, or not. Jennie's 'crime' of extrreme poverty has her lumped in with thieves and prostitutes. 

While the novel expores the issues of self-reliance, there is frequent mention of God and prayers, and the protagonists rely on male benevolence to survive. Though this may be a grim read for teens, Convictions' characters had a better conclusion than the actual outcome for the real women who inspired this story, and can serve as a gateway to learning about human rights.

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