A young immigrant searches for her place in early-20th-century America in Tarquini’s (Hindsight, 2016) historical fantasy novel.
Fiora Vicente is the 16-year-old daughter of Italian immigrants living in Philadelphia during the influenza epidemic of 1918. After she loses both parents to the disease, the only person who will take her in is Don Sebastiano, an old, mysterious shoemaker. She searches for a job to help support herself while she waits for her two brothers to return from the front lines of World War I, but this proves difficult, as Fiora faces prejudice from her neighbors. Not only do they fear that she could be carrying the illness that killed her parents, but many are wary of her late mother’s reputation as a fortuneteller. The teenager also has to contend with her own disturbing visions of the past and future, which she begins to see through a special curtain that once belonged to her mother. This proves to be both a blessing and a curse. When her visions of the future make her fear for a friend’s life, Fiora uses her mother’s gift to try to change time itself. But without her mother’s guidance, the action has unintended consequences for both Fiora and her community. As Fiora narrates, “I wanted everything to be like it was before I came...the curtain wouldn’t allow it.” This book offers a well-researched and engagingly drawn portrait of a displaced Italian community in one of America’s most turbulent years. Fiora is a forceful, determined protagonist among an intriguing cast of supporting characters. The first-person descriptions of her life are both vivid and tender, encompassing, as Fiora puts it, “Moments illuminated by love.” If the book has a flaw, however, it is that it sometimes spends too much time on description at the expense of story. Also, because Fiora’s parents are so central to her emerging identity, it would have been nice to see more of them before their deaths at the beginning of the book. Even so, most readers will be happy to accompany the teen on her journey.
A well-woven tapestry of history, character, and charming mystery.