Belladonna by Mary Finn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I know that most history teachers dislike historical fiction because it's often not true to the time period, and that inserting fictional characters into real events skews the history parts. While there are a few "real" people in Belladonna, they're not people readers in the target age group are likely to have heard of and the setting is not a big, known city but a rural village.
What I think will attract readers is that the main character, Thomas, has difficulty learning but has a good visual sense and can easily draw mouths saying different letters. Anyone who does not do well with rote memorization will sympathize and identify with him. Also, boys will love the grossness of his apprenticeship with Mr. Stubbs and the anatomical drawings of the dead horse.
Where the book has problems is in scope: too much is going on. There's Stubbs and the horses, there's Ling/Helene and her Lipizzaner, Belladonna, there's a press-gang incident, a nearly mute luthier, learning to read, class issues... see where I'm going? Sometimes I felt as though the author was so eager to put more 'reality' in the book that it got muddied.
ARC provided by publisher.
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