Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction
Publisher: Amazon Children’s Publishing
Release date: November 6 2012
I was entranced by this imaginative story set in Renaissance Italy that follows a young girl as she seeks her heart’s desire. Not only does this book focus on the fascinating subject of Renaissance painting, but it gives an intimate glimpse into the lives of women during the 1480’s and their place in the world. I studied art in college, so I devoured all the details of Giulia’s admittance into the secretive world of women painters during the Renaissance. I love it when books teach me new things, and Passion Blue does that in spades. The beautiful writing and engaging characters and story make this a book that’s hard to put down until you’ve reached the end.
Giulia is sixteen when her stepmother decides to pack her off to the convent of Santa Marta, to spend the rest of her life in service to God. Despite the marriage dowry her father has left for her, Giulia’s dreams of marrying one day and having a home of her own are dashed when her stepmother ignores her father’s wishes and gives the dowry to the convent. She reluctantly begins her new life with strict rules, harsh discipline, and a bevy of mean girls with whom she must live and work. But Giulia wears a secret talisman that promises to lead her to her heart’s desire. Given to her by a sorcerer, she believes the spirit trapped inside will be able to help her escape the convent some day.
But Giulia’s heart’s desire may not be what she thinks it is. After one of the nuns discovers a charcoal drawing among her possessions, Giulia is reassigned to the workshop where female artists are creating beautiful paintings. She is apprenticed to Suor Humilità, the convent’s master painter, and she begins to learn the craft of preparing canvases, mixing paints, and keeping the workshop neat and tidy, with the tempting possibility of becoming a painter herself someday.
Her new friends and the joy of spending her days with artists make convent life much easier, but fate intervenes and puts temptation in her path when she meets a visiting craftsman and unwisely falls for him. This sets off a chain of events that will cause Giulia to reevaluate what she really wants in life. The last third of the book is filled with nail-biting action that will leave the reader guessing which path Giulia will ultimately choose.
At the heart of it all is the mysterious paint known as Passion Blue, a deep, rich hue unlike any other, created by Humilità herself, the recipe of which is kept under lock and key and written in code so it can’t be stolen. I was fascinated by Giulia’s journey toward becoming a painter and the careful steps that are taken before one can actually pick up a paint brush. Strauss lovingly details the exhaustive process of how paint is made, the ingredients that went into paint at that time in history, and the preparations of the work surface before any paint could be applied. Even more fascinating is the role of women painters during the Renaissance. The artists in the convent workshop worked mostly in secrecy, as painting was a trade that only men were allowed to pursue. But the exquisite artistic talents of Humilità show Giulia that women have just as much aptitude as men, even if society doesn’t give them the chance to explore their talents.
The themes in Passion Blue are perfect for the young adult crowd, and I encourage girls as young as twelve to read this book. Giulia’s development as a character is one of the best I’ve read. She begins as an innocent but self-absorbed girl who longs for a husband, but gradually learns about humility, sacrifice and atonement. She makes mistakes of the worst kind, but she is able to learn from those mistakes and accept the consequences. For young girls today who are raised to believe they can do anything, the plight of women during Renaissance times may be hard to relate to. But Giulia is a plucky and smart heroine, and by the end of the story, manages to rise above her station. Passion Blue sends a strong message to girls to strive for their dreams, despite the expectations of society. Filled with adventure, mystery, romance, hope and joy, this book should be on every teen’s reading list.
Many thanks to the author for supplying a review copy.
Passion Blue comes out on November 6th, and you can pre-order it here.
I’m thrilled to be part of the Passion Blue Blog Tour coming up later this month! Please check back for an interview with Victoria Strauss as well as a giveaway of her wonderful book!