Monday, December 16, 2013

Belle Epoque

Belle Epoque
by Elizabeth Ross
336 pages
High School+

When Maude Pichon leaves her small town to come to Paris, she expects a more glamorous life, one full of love, freedom, and new possibilities.  What she finds is reality: life is hard and rent is expensive.  Sick of doing laundry, Maude responds to an add in the paper.  Instead of the menial work that she was expecting, she instead becomes a repoussior, an ugly girl set next to a normal girl to make her look more beautiful.

Slightly repulsed by herself, the job and the other girls that work there, but out of other options, she throws herself into the work.  She becomes the companion of a nobleman daughter, going to everything to tea to fancy balls as a good friend's distant relative.  The unsuspecting girl is at first mean to her, but gradually thaws and they start actually talking.  After seeing her camera and study room, Maude is impressed by this girl, her dreams and capabilities.  Not wanting to deceive her new friend, Maude is being trapped in a lie of her own making...

So, this is one of the nominees for the YALSA Morris award.  For more info on that please go here:

First issue I have with this book: THE COVER!  This book is about ugly girls.  Not pretty girls: UGLY girls.  WHY did they choose this cover?  Get a new cover!

Next issue: why is this a romance?  While Maude is escaping her awful life in her small town, and comes to Paris because it is supposed to be full of possibilities.  I get that she is looking for a better life, she does run into boys, she does long for something more than what she has.  But to me, I think a lot more could have been done with the idea of the repoussior.  Intriguing idea, but this story just felt so flat and blah.  Even the elements that I (and most teens) would consider the "romantic" parts, were very minimal and under emphasized.  You don't need to hit me over the head with it, but a little more would have been nice.

One thing I did like was the use of the setting to make intriguing parallels.  This book takes place during the building of the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, and Maude often sees it or makes reference to it.  That was one thing that was nicely woven into the story.

So, if you couldn't tell, I was not impressed with this book. While I read this book fairly quickly (took me less than 4 hours), I really wasn't that into it.  I kept feeling like more should happen, like there had to be more to the story, but that was it.  I will not really recommend this to anyone, unless they just want a bland, historical novel.  Maybe I've read too much adventure and fantasy books, but this did not leave a favorable impression at all.

Quick note: some french is helpful, but not necessary, while reading this.  Most of it is explained, or could be understood contextually, so not essential to understanding the book.

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