Love and conventional roles for women collide in this page-ripping tale from 15th-century Venice.
The gifted Printz Honor–winning poet (Your Own, Sylvia, 2007, etc.) turns to Renaissance Italy to probe timeless questions of class, gender roles and family ties. Setting her story on the tiny island of Murano in the late 1400s, Hemphill shines a light on the world of glassmaking as crafted by the well-established Barovier family. The tale’s tension centers around Maria’s promise to honor her dying father’s wish that she marry into Venetian nobility. This responsibility should have fallen to her older sister, Giovanna, whose beauty, charm and upbringing have primed her to become a noblewoman her entire life. At age 15, Maria feels the expanse of her world beginning to shrink as her mother starts preparing her “to be bartered away.” She finds that “learning to be a lady / is like learning / to live within a shell.” Maria’s misery only increases when an alluring glassblower arrives on the scene, making her long even more to be allowed to preserve the family’s social station by exercising her talents as a glassmaker. Hemphill’s deft sense of line, engaging language and fast-paced plot combine smoothly as molten glass in this intricate family drama, in which modern self-determination eventually trumps tradition.
A fiery, feminist love story young teens, particularly girls, should just devour. (Verse novel. 11 & up)