By Julia Donnini
Shelburne native, Jenny Land explores pre-civil war Vermont life in 1843 through the eyes of 13-year-old Susannah Allen. Her debut novel “The Spare Room” moves through the familiar seasons, simultaneously revealing the character of a family in a profound era in American history. A native to the core, Land spent early school years in Shelburne, encouraged by family and teachers alike. After attending Champlain Valley Union (CVU) High School Land studied creative writing both as an undergrad at Dartmouth College and as a post-grad at the University of Oxford and the University of St. Andrews. While this is her first novel to be published, she is no stranger to the printed word. Land also publishes her poetry in the United Kingdom. Now a professor of creative writing at St. Johnsbury Academy, she has settled in Peacham, Vt. with her husband and twin daughters.
Land’s new work of historical fiction shows main character Susannah grappling with new ideas spawned by the growing abolitionist movement in Vermont. Chronicled in quick-witted detail, Land authentically captures New England at a time when it harbored its fair share of both abolitionists and runaway slaves–through the innocence of a young girl’s diary. It shares the timeless essence of childhood favorites such as Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” With tactful naiveté, “The Spare Room” maintains the wisdom of classic young adult literature.
For the novel, Land explains that inspiration came from a longtime personal interest in history. A true buff, particularly of 19th and early 20th century Vermont, she always perks at the mention of period dress or the lifestyle of the Vermont countryside that existed before electricity. Land openly admits to rarely resisting a trip to local hotspots like the Shelburne Museum and the Rokeby museum. As a student, she even scored an internship with the former researching costume history. It was at the Shelburne Museum that she garnered the wealth of knowledge that she often employs when beginning a new story. Additionally, her youthful perspective dreamily spills over into a refreshing fascination with young adult literature. Land promises, “I still enjoy reading young adult books.”
So enchanted by the possibility of a blank notebook herself, author Land fostered a love for creative writing at a young age. Beginning with her own blank notebook and spreading to the printed page, Land launches her debut novel, “The Spare Room.” Fans can join her this Friday, Nov. 30 at 6:30 pm at The Flying Pig bookstore in Shelburne. Readers ages 10 and older are welcome to come and enjoy snacks and a lot of local literary charm. Meticulously researched and heartwarmingly crafted, the story of Susannah Allen’s 13th year is a compelling tale for all ages.