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BELLADONNA by Mary Finn Kirkus Star


by Mary Finn

Age Range: 11 & up

Pub Date: June 14th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7636-5106-0
Publisher: Candlewick

A story as carefully and beautifully rendered as the anatomical studies that inspired it.

When Thomas Rose, "unteachable as a rabbit plucked by its ears from the market," is kicked out of grammar school in rural England, 1757, he faces an uncertain future. Though he works hard, he doesn't love the family wheelwright trade, and becoming a glover like his grandfather would be worse. Yet he must do something. A chance encounter with a young acrobat—Hélène, who goes by the stage name Ling—leads him to join a search for her missing circus horse, Belladonna, which in turns leads him to an unsettling apprenticeship under a man named George Stubbs. Stubbs' fame as the greatest painter of horses in history is far in the future; for now, he's dissecting rotting horse cadavers in order to fully understand their anatomy. Thomas needs a strong stomach as well as strong arms. Meanwhile, Ling fights not only for her mare but for her very survival; her history, gradually revealed, shows how completely alone she is. The plot flows slowly but gracefully, culminating in a realistic ending that offers hope without pat solutions. Thomas' voice is thoroughly grounded in time and place, with a sense of history that informs but never overwhelms.

Best of all are the characters, particularly Ling, shown in all their flaws and glories, very much like a painting by Stubbs. (Historical fiction. 11 & up)