The aristocrats and the poor clash in 1888-9 Paris.
Most Parisians dislike the new tower under construction by Monsieur Eiffel, but Maude, a 16-year-old who has run away from home, loves what others see as a monstrosity. Maude, too, is a monstrosity to some. A girl with no better than plain features, she nearly starves until she takes a job as a repoussoir. Wealthy women hire ugly women such as Maude to join them in public so that they will shine all the brighter in comparison. Countess Dubern hires Maude as a companion for her daughter Isabelle during the girl’s first social season, with the expectation that Maude will steer Isabelle into an engagement with the handsome and wealthy Duke d’Avaray. Rebellious Isabelle intends to study science at the Sorbonne instead, refusing to marry. The two girls develop a real friendship, leaving Maude torn between her job and her loyalty to Isabelle. Ross models her plot on an 1866 story by Zola, “Les Repoussoirs,” expanding its focus to highlight Maude’s plight and using that to illuminate the chasm that existed between the wealthy and the poor. Maude, with her artistic insight, her pluck and her intelligence, despite her lack of formal education, perhaps comes across as a less-than-typical adolescent of that time but holds readers’ interest throughout.
A refreshingly relevant and inspiring historical venture. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)