Three girls train under Vivaldi at an esteemed orphanage for the musically gifted, each seeking love outside its strict classes and conventions. Impetuous Rosalba constructs romantic fantasies about a local apprentice; star soprano Luisa pines for her distant mother; studious Anetta hounds Luisa for any scrap of affection. Alternating chapters of first-person narration place readers inside the lively ospedale, full of chortling instruments and giggling girls. Collins creates an engrossing work of historical fiction that allows apt teen readers to absorb bustling 18th-century Venice, musical terminology and even bits of Italian. The girls’ dissonant voices—quite different from one another, making this substantial novel manageable—intense friendships and ardent (sometimes shattering) pursuits of love endow the story with enduring intrigue. Fatherly Vivaldi, a ruddy, spirited and sympathetic composer approaching greatness, binds the girls and the story together. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 14 & up)
When snow cancels school, Mia and her family pile into their beat-up station wagon for a drive. Unlike most 17-year-olds, Mia is secretly enjoying hanging out with her quirky family until an oncoming driver shatters their lives, leaving the gravely injured Mia with the ultimate decision: Should she stay or go? As a spirit-like observer, Mia narrates the next 24 hours, describing how her medical team, friends, boyfriend and extended family care for her each in their own way. Woven into her real-time observations are powerful memories that organically introduce Mia’s passion for classical music, her relationship with her boyfriend and her bond with her parents and brother. These memories reinforce the magnitude of Mia’s decision and provide weight to both sides of her dilemma. Forman excels at inserting tiny but powerful details throughout, including the realistic sounds, smells and vocabulary of a hospital, which will draw readers into this masterful text and undoubtedly tug at even the toughest of heartstrings. (Fiction. YA)
The Paris of Degas and the Impressionists was a vibrant and exciting time of artistic accomplishment. One of the most beloved works of art from this time is Degas’ sculpture of “Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen.” From what little is known about the model, a student at the Paris Opera Ballet named Marie Van Goethem, Meyer has fashioned a story of a young dancer who models for Degas to offset the extreme poverty of her home life. Her older sister, also a dancer, is more intent on finding a man who will provide her with an apartment and jewels. Their mother works in a laundry when not falling down drunk from partaking of too much absinthe to drown her own sorrows. Readers with an interest in ballet will find fascinating insights into the strict world of the late 19th-century Parisian ballet. As striking is the juxtaposition of a ballet dancer holding a still pose for the sculpture. Her modeling leads to a fascination with Degas’ art and that of Mary Cassatt, a friend of Degas, while her love interests and her unwillingness to become a mistress of a rich man add flavor to the tale. (Fiction 12+)
The daughter of a verbally abusive cartographer attempts to chart the rugged emotional terrain of her life. Stunning except for the port-wine stain birthmark on her cheek, Terra lives in the shadow of her father’s petty sarcasm. She creates collaged maps and endures rigorous workouts to cope, but nothing makes her happy. Then she meets Jacob, a self-assured Asian Goth boy with a cleft lip who invites peoples’ stares and doesn’t care about Terra’s birthmark. A chance to travel to China with Jacob and his adopted mother becomes an opportunity for Terra and her mother to define themselves outside of Dad’s narrow parameters and gain the confidence to map their own futures. This emotionally satisfying novel is replete with themes about the true meaning of beauty, the destructive power of verbal abuse and the restorative ability of art. Mapping and cartography terms are expertly woven throughout the text, adding yet another level to an already complex and deeply felt read. Look out, Sarah Dessen. You may have met your match in Headley. (Fiction. 13 & up)
Giulia is bright, curious and a gifted artist, born to a noble father and his humble mistress in 15th-century Renaissance Italy. Now her fate rests with her father’s widow, who’s sending Giulia to a Padua convent.
Desperate to avoid a cloistered life, Giulia obtains a talisman that’s promised to deliver her heart’s desire: marriage to a good man and a home of her own. Convent life is hard. Highborn nuns enjoy freedom; others, like Giulia, labor at menial tasks. When her artistic talent’s discovered, she’s invited to join the close-knit group of artist nuns whose renowned work helps support the convent. Guided by Maestra Humilità, daughter of a famous artist, Giulia begins to learn this exacting craft with tasks like mixing egg tempera. Artists create their own colors, their recipes closely guarded secrets. Humilità’s precious passion blue is one; its beauty draws Giulia like a flame. So do visions of love and freedom beyond convent walls. But stealing away to meet handsome Ormanno, another talented artist, is risky. Fantasy elements and a historical setting rich with sensuous detail are satisfying, but it’s Giulia’s achingly real search for her heart’s desire that resonates most today, when millions of girls still have limited choices.
A rare, rewarding, sumptuous exploration of artistic passion.
(Historical fantasy. 12 & up)
Andi Alpers, a 17-year-old music lover, is about to be expelled from her elite private school. Despite her brilliance, she has not been able to focus on anything except music since the death of her younger brother, which pushed the difficulties in her family to the breaking point. She resists accompanying her work-obsessed father to Paris, especially after he places her mentally fragile mother in a hospital, but once there works in earnest on her senior thesis about an 18th-century French musician. But when she finds the 200-year-old diary of another teen, Alexandrine Paradis, she is plunged into the chaos of the French Revolution. Soon, Alex’s life and struggles become as real and as painful for Andi as her own troubled life. Printz Honor winner Donnelly combines compelling historical fiction with a frank contemporary story. Andi is brilliantly realized, complete and complex. The novel is rich with detail, and both the Brooklyn and Paris settings provide important grounding for the haunting and beautifully told story. (Fiction. 14 & up)
The lushly detailed life of a girl who grows up to pose for the Mona Lisa. Elisabetta savors her country home with its verdant gardens. She contentedly harvests olives and helps run the family’s silkworm business. Because she’s an aristocrat, she must betroth herself to a nobleman, but she hopes desperately for someone young and passionate rather than an old widower. On a visit to Florence, family acquaintance Leonardo da Vinci introduces her to Giuliano de’ Medici, the youngest son of Florence’s ruling family. In this city bursting with art and artists—Leonardo, Botticelli, a young Michelangelo—Betta and Giuliano connect instantly. After his father’s death, Giuliano’s older brother Piero claims the republic and runs it into the ground, resulting in their exile. Political strife and family deaths repeatedly postpone Betta’s husband-seeking party, but although her engagement with Giuliano is secret, she never dreams the truth—that her father’s betrothed her elsewhere. Through this deeply personal story, Napoli paints a magnificent and mournful portrait of the Italian Renaissance, both tragic and triumphant. (Historical fiction. YA)
Grammy-winning, world-touring violinist Carmen Bianchi, 17, has outgrown child-prodigy status. To transition to an adult career as a virtuoso soloist, she must win the Guarneri Competition. If she loses, she’ll be just another former prodigy.
Reflecting on the peculiar fame belonging to classical-music prodigies, Jeremy King—another ambitious ex-wunderkind with an equally intimidating resume—tells Carmen, “You’re a god to two percent of the population and a nobody to everyone else.” Carmen embodies this strange dichotomy. She’s homeschooled, has never dated, lacks close friends and depends on anti-anxiety drugs. She also has a vocation she loves, a Stradivarius violin and a posse of adults dedicated to advancing her career. Chief among these is Carmen’s mother and manager, Diana, whose operatic career ended early. As the competition approaches, Carmen and Jeremy—each ardently competitive and deeply smitten—form a deep but wary bond that Diana, ruled by anxious passions and an iron determination to win, bitterly opposes. Carmen’s struggles to succeed with integrity remind readers that “virtue” is the root of “virtuosity,” a fragile truth often lost when valuable prizes are at stake.
Former child violin prodigy Martinez brings this overwrought world to tense, quivering life and guides readers through it confidently. A brilliant debut.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
Soledad Reyes, a Cuban-American high-school senior, lives to dance and hopes to win a spot in a professional ballet company. When classmate Jonathan Crandall, a handsome and hunky horn player, suggests she audition as Carmen in the competitive world of drum and bugle corps, she’s intrigued—and ends up nabbing the role as well as Jonathan’s heart. Hampered by hazy descriptions of the competitive action, the conflict-free overlong middle section drags, though it eventually becomes clear that something is off with Jonathan. His feelings for Soledad have a suffocating intensity, and he’s locked in an unhealthy battle with his controlling father. For her part, Soledad, who is experiencing intangible knee problems, enjoys a forbidden flirtation with a handsome Spanish futboler. Finally, in a gasp-out-loud moment around the three-quarter mark, the novel takes a shocking turn then moves at a swift pace as all the loose ends are neatly tied up. Soledad’s first-person narration feels authentic, but the material would engage more if it were shorter and sharper. (Fiction. YA)
An intense foray into first lust and the meanings of art in the summer of 1970 and six years later. Rees prefaces each chapter with a catalogue raisonné entry, an art critic’s description or some other scrap of printed matter that sets the stage. In London’s SoHo, a 21-year-old Richard goes to an invitation-only art gallery exhibiting Clio Dalton’s work. The summer they were 15, Richard had stumbled over her and her family at the Wish House, where he and a buddy used to hang out in the summer when it was abandoned. Now, however, Clio, her mother Lucia and her artist father J.A. Dalton, and an ever-changing coterie of relatives, friends and hangers-on are spending the summer. Richard is closed, thoughtless and utterly confused by these free spirits; he is obsessed with Clio and her body and the lovely, imaginative games they play full of knights and quests. J.A. is also painting the golden, handsome Richard. There are no sympathetic characters here: Clio is manipulative and dangerous; J.A. is tortured and passionate; Richard’s first sight of Lucia is of her lying naked on the lawn. Things end very badly, if predictably, indeed. Compelling for its examination of the darker side of desire both sexual and artistic. (Fiction. YA)