The Language of Fire: Joan of Arc Reimagined

HarperCollins. Jun. 2019. 512p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062490117.
Gr 7 Up–The Hundred Years’ War consumes France as monarchs fight over the coveted throne. In a small French village, 13-year-old Jehanne hears a call from God to leave home and embark on a mission to ensure Charles VII is crowned King of France. With just a few years to complete her task, Jehanne builds an army, wins campaigns, and shocks the nation with her pursuits. However, her story is not as cut-and-dried as it seems, and her faith leads to unintended consequences at the hands of her countrymen. A clear passion project, Hemphill’s rousing novel in verse breathes life into the tale of Joan of Arc, or Jehanne la Pucelle. While the book has a heavy start, the foreword of historical notes aids in clarifying Jehanne’s time line and bookends nicely with the detailed bibliography at the closure. The use of traditional French names and spellings within the poems adds a sense of intimacy to Jehanne’s struggles with gender, war, and faith. The free verse structure lends well to humanizing Jehanne beyond her known sainthood. Though a few moments feel choppy near the end, they are easily overlooked in favor of the empowering message to stay strong in one’s beliefs, undeterred in fighting to be heard.
VERDICT Those intrigued by Joan of Arc will enjoy this well-researched, if lengthy, tale of Jehanne la Pucelle

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