Mary Jane Beaufrand
I heard someone say once that when learning about the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, we in the US learn so much about England and so little about what was going on in continental Europe. As the Damsels’ resident Anglophile, this never bothered me much. Nevertheless, it’s refreshing to read a historical novel for kids or teens set outside England in this time period. Because, really, for as interesting as English history can get, it doesn’t hold a candle to the disfunction of fifteenth-century Florence.
Flora Pazzi is the teenage black sheep of her wealthy Florentine family. She’s the youngest child and has always lived in the shadow of her gorgeous sister, Domenica. She also realizes her family cares only for money and prestige, constantly competing with the Medici family for power over Florence’s council and social scene. Flora distracts herself from the tension by befriending a young member of her family’s guard, Emilio, and by observing the work of Sandro Botticelli, the painter who has been hired to paint Domenica’s portrait. But as Carnival and Easter approach, the tensions mount, and Flora must chose whether to defend the family who has never loved her or do what she knows is right.
This book follows history a bit more closely than many works of historical fiction, since the central event, the April rebellion of 1478, actually happened and was a show-down between the Pazzi and Medici families. I’d studied this era of Florence a bit in college, and gotten a taste of Florence in the sixteenth century from another SHU critique partner, Monica Spence, but I enjoyed learning about this particular chapter in its bloody, glorious history. And bloody it is: the book doesn’t shy away from gruesome images of public hangings and horrid prison conditions, but even my weak stomach conceded it was necessary for the story. Sensory description is a real strength of this book, especially smells, both good ones and ones that would probably make me sick in real life.
I also enjoyed that it is, in part, a story of Botticelli’s famous painting, the Primavera. My class in college introduced me to Botticelli and this painting in particular, and I have loved both ever since. Books offering a fictional story behind classic works of art have been popular in recent years, though this is maybe the only one I’ve seen for young adults. In the adult publishing world, though, The Botticelli Secret also features the model for the Primavera. I haven’t read this one, but I’m curious if any Damsel readers have and can offer comments. It’s on my to-read list so I can do an informal comparison…you know, after all those other books I’m meaning to read!
Stay tuned for an interview with Mary Jane Beaufrand and a chance to win a signed copy later this week!