Late Renaissance Italy comes to life in this upper-middle-grade novel featuring the painter Caravaggio and a young friend.
Fifteen-year-old Beppo, sold two years earlier into indentured servitude by his debt-ridden stepfather to an unsavory wine merchant, doesn’t think he can get any more miserable. But then the wine merchant is murdered, and Beppo is wrongly accused. He runs away and, searching for a safe place to hide, stumbles into a brawl between the famous (and famously temperamental) painter Caravaggio and the man who actually committed the murder. Beppo and the wounded Caravaggio flee together and, as the story’s adventures continue, form a strong friendship. While Beppo is a fictitious character, Caravaggio is not. Narrated by Beppo, the story stays true to what is known about Caravaggio’s tumultuous life (with a few details chronologically reordered, a license addressed in the appended historical note). Rich and copious details of early-17th-century Italian life—how medicinal herbs are used, how paint pigments are mixed and canvases stretched, how to fight with a sword, and Caravaggio’s (purported) use of the camera obscura to paint his distinctive paintings, among many others—give great depth and validity to the narrative. Beppo’s happy-ending romantic storyline adds additional appeal.
Combining the timeless allure of action and young-love romance with the historically accurate and turbulent life of the painter Caravaggio, this story succeeds on all levels. (Historical fiction. 12-15)