Friday, October 2, 2009

The Red Necklace

Gardner, Sally. The Red Necklace: A Story of the French Revolution. New York: Dial Books, 2008. Print.
[Book Covers Credit:]

ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2009)

Then, without thinking, [Topolain] inquired, "Forgive me for asking, but haven't we met before? I never forget a face and yours is one that--" He stopped, realizing too late that his tongue had run away with itself. He knew it was a fatal mistake.

Kalliovski's eyes narrowed to scrutinize the man in front of him. He turned to look at the dwarf, a spark of recognition showing on his face. Only then did the poor magician remember when and where he had last seen the count. Under his blotched white makeup all the color drained from his face. The count smiled inwardly.

He turned on his red heels and left the room. Tetu and Topolain listened to his footsteps retreat into the distance. They were well and truly trapped.

"What have I done?" said Topolain.

Yann, a young gypsy boy, can read minds and throw his voice. He works in a magic act with Topolain and Tetu, two gypsy men who tangled with the wrong person a long time ago. When that past comes back to haunt them, they know that their lives are over. But France is in turmoil as the peasants for whom these three perform in the theatres rage against the wealthy elite, who call the magicians to their homes to perform at their endless parties. Can these three gypsies, masters of blending in all, get lost in the shuffle and leave their past behind?

Sally Gardner is awesome. This book is full of action, magic, budding romance, evil, and facts about the French Revolution that you probably didn't know; I know I didn't. And the best part? It's not about Marie Antoinette. She's mentioned, of course, but just that. In The Red Necklace Gardner shows readers how the French Revolution affected rich people besides the queen, peasants who had everything to gain from the Revolution, and the terrified people in between: those who had served, helped, or worked for the aristocracy a bit too long to look good in the eyes of the Revolutionaries but did not have the finances themselves to flee to England. The back matter explains the political and financial triggers for the French Revolution. She even manages to make sure that this back matter doesn't read like a history book.

My only real problem with this book is the pretty, pretty cover on the American edition:

It's hard for me to complain because, to be honest, I would never have picked up this book if I had only seen the cover at the very top of this post. It looks too History Channel or something. I picked up this book because of the pretty girl in a fancy dress who is so obviously being beheaded, because that's what pretty girls in fancy dresses (especially blonde ones who could be mistaken for Marie Antoinette from behind) did during the French Revolution. I thought I was going to read a story about her.

That girl is not in this story. I didn't miss her, but she's why I picked up the book. I'm sure that girl on the cover is why a lot of people will pick up this book. I don't think they'll be disappointed either. I'm more worried about the readers who might really enjoy Yann's story and all of the little details about how those not in the aristocracy (like that girl obviously is) experienced the French Revolution, but won't pick up this book because of that girl on the cover.

This cover is just one more in the long line of "girls in period dresses" covers that have been gracing the shelves lately, but the story in the pages could be a "boy" book. I hate that term, because I think that the idea that boys can only read books about boys while girls can read books about anyone is ridiculous. But if I can't even get my girlfriend to read this book (even though she was really interested in it after reading my booktalk) because it's too girly looking, what chance is there that a teenage boy will pick it up voluntarily?

In conclusion: Great book. Misleading cover. Potential audience lost.

Book source: Philly Free


Laughing Stars said...

This looks terrific! Thanks for the great review.

Sheila said...

Good review and like the cover discussion. Interesting how you said potential audience lost. That is so true. I am a cover person as well and that is what catches my eye... a plain or uninteresting cover gets passed up by me time and again... sad but true and yet I know I am not alone.

Sheila said...

I would like to start a topic regarding this on my blog tomorrow. i will link it back to you and this post for giving me the train of thought.

Jenny Girl said...

What a great find indeed! Most French Rev stories are all about the aristocracy, at least the ones I come across. Thanks for the recommendation.