When a headstrong, intellectually curious 17-year-old living in 1344 San Gimignano, Italy, becomes a midwife’s apprentice, she embarks on a harrowing journey to discover her true vocation.
While her sisters focus on marrying appropriate husbands, Santina’s besotted with Calandrino, a brilliant but poor scholar. After Santina’s father discovers that she and Calandrino are in love, he dismisses the scholar, who departs for Spain to pursue his alchemy studies, promising Santina they will meet again. Distraught, Santina turns to the local midwife, who urges her to forget Calandrino and do something useful with her life. Against her father’s wishes, Santina works as the midwife’s apprentice until the midwife’s accused of witchcraft. Fearing for her safety, Santina abandons midwifery and reluctantly agrees to marry an arrogant jewel merchant, though she secretly corresponds with Calandrino. When plague strikes, Santina nurses the afflicted, enraging her fiance, who accuses her of witchcraft, forcing her to flee in a surprising finale. Brimming with details of life in Italy during the plague of 1348, this well-researched story incorporates historical information about medieval alchemy, midwifery, and the conflict between science and superstition, providing a rich context and arresting contrast for Santina’s thoroughly modern attitudes.
This medieval love story and its memorable heroine are likely to resonate with contemporary teens. (maps, historical timeline, glossary, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 14-18)