Based on actual events in Anne Green’s life, Mary Hooper’s Newes from the Dead, is a fantastic, enthralling upper-MG / YA book based in and around 17th Century Oxford. It’s the grizzly tale of how one young woman came to survive the hangman’s noose.
Told from two points-of-view – Anne herself and a young scholar named Robert who witnessed her demise and “resurrection” – the book very cleverly ratchets up the tension by giving Anne’s internal thoughts of how she ended up being accused of murder… whilst she is about to be dissected.
Anne is a scullery maid at the Sir Thomas Reade mansion and she – like many young women of her time – is regularly taken advantage of by the upperclass family she serves. In this instance, Reade’s idiotic, hormonal young 16-year-old son persuades Anne that he will make her into a Lady with many riches, if only she were to come to his bed. Anne refuses, as she is in love with another man, but eventually – knowing how poor her family is – she succumbs.
Sadly, later, she gives birth to a stillborn baby and – on admitting that Reade’s son got her pregnant – is wrongly accused of infanticide (infant murder) by Justice of the Peace, Sir Thomas (to stop his family name being ruined). This type of crime, back then in 1650, was seen as the worst and only crime on the statute law books where the person accused of it was guilty until proven innocent.
With no protection, and up against the powers of Lords with much influence, she is found guilty and hung for killing her child.
And this is where the book begins – with Anne in an Oxford apothecary’s house about to be dissected for medical science by a group of learned men. They believe she is dead, but we know that she is not because Anne begins recounting her story “backwards”, until the point where she was hung, confirmed dead and put inside a coffin to be dissected.
The tension is palpable the nearer the men get to dissecting her, because we – the readers – know that she is still alive in some way, but that she cannot move or signal to the doctors. I found myself getting more and more stressed as I read (and wanted to keep reading!), the more of Anne’s “inside her head” story unfolded at the same time as the “outside her head” scenes brought her nearer dissection.
It is only the young scholar, Robert, who notices some faint vital signs and asks that the men try to revive her, not cut her up. And then they spend several days trying to bring her “back to life”, despite Sir Thomas Reade and devout Christians attempting to stop them.
After this point, I will not go into anymore details as it will spoil the story.
Having never read a Mary Cooper book before, I was taken aback at what a wonderful, timely approach to 17th century prose she has. I really felt entirely back in that time and inside Anne’s head, witnessing her slow and unfortunate demise. And the scenes of her in prison are incredibly harrowing and realistic.
Newes From The Dead is probably a YA book, but could be read by some children at Upper-MG level if they are confident and open-minded readers. Whilst the subject matter itself is adult-ish in theme, there are no depictions of sex or death described in a way that warrants it to be an adult novel, so parents should not worry.