Review originally posted here
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Image from Victoria Strauss's website[/caption]Passion Blue is one of those books that I heard about from several sources (Book Smugglers
) and put on hold. And then it was several months later and I had forgotten all about it until it came in. At that point, I didn't remember anything about it, but when I looked at the blurbs on the back cover, I saw ones from Robin McKinley, Jane Yolen, and Megan Whalen Turner.
Basically, if I didn't love this book, I was going to declare the universe broken.
Fortunately, the universe seems to be going along about as well as it ever does. Because this book is not only awesome, it's surprising
. And I am at the point where few books are actually surprising.
However, what I really liked about this book is spoilery in the extreme. So for those of you who haven't read this and are allergic to spoilers, Passion Blue
is a lovely and fresh historical fiction (with a few fantastic elements), fully inhabiting its setting in Renaissance Italy. For everyone else, follow me below the jump.
SPOILERS AHOY! LAST WARNING!
Giulia is the illegitimate daughter of a Milanese nobleman and as such her future has always been a bit tenuous. But when he dies, his wife arranges for her to be sent to a convent. Giulia, who has wanted all her life to be married and have her own house, is utterly dismayed. She is determined to change her fate, with the help of an astrologer and a spirit.
First of all, I loved the fact that Giulia really wants to get married, which is a point of view we don't see very often in recent YA fiction. Moreover, this is her heart's desire, partly because she wants to have a place of her own. In the time period and setting depicted, all of this makes total sense. And I think that it might also resonate with a surprising number of teenage girls.
Giulia is an artist--she has always loved to draw, though she's never had a teacher, and her sketchbook is her greatest treasure. When she reaches the convent, she discovers that it contains a workshop of artists, nuns who have been given an obedience* because of their artistic talents. Working there becomes her greatest joy, and over time she enters into a sisterhood of other novices and nuns.
Throughout this book, Giulia's conflict is between this world of art and sisterhood, and her heart's desire--to get married. A young apprentice offers her a chance to escape the convent, embodying her dilemma. And here's the surprising, spoilery part that made me love this book: she chooses the convent. Partly because the apprentice turns out to be a lying, thieving jerk--but that's not the way the book presents it. She chooses to come back, even though it means admitting her guilt and having to prove herself to everyone again. She chooses it because it's her true heart's desire.
And that brings me to the last thing: religious faith is presented as real and valid. It's not that Giulia doesn't struggle with her faith, or that all the nuns are there for starry-eyed reasons; she does, and they're not. But part of the resolution is Giulia's heartfelt return to faith, and repentance. While it's not preachy, I really felt like it was written in a way that was honest and respectful of religious faith and I cannot tell you how much I appreciated it.
Book information: 2012; Amazon Children's Publishing**
Book source: public library
* That's the Orthodox term; I don't remember how the book puts it, so I'm leaving it that way.
** WHAT? Do I have to like Amazon now? No...won't do it.