Monday, February 4, 2013

The Painted Girls

Late 19th Century Paris, a family struggling with circumstance. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan tells a story of three sisters, forced to make moral compromises when their father dies and Maman turns to absinthe, dooming them to a life in squalor.

The story is told from the point of view of Antoinette and Marie. Antoinette, the oldest of the three sisters, feels it is her duty to look out for the younger girls. She knows that their best chance of survival lies in the ballet and having attended the school herself, she manipulates an audition for the younger girls. Marie and Charlotte are both accepted in the dance school much to Antoinette’s delight; but, while waiting for her sisters she meets Émile Abadie and her world begins a downward spiral.

Marie, reluctant to leave her studies, joins the Paris Opéra where it becomes evident she has an incredible gift for dance. It is there, that she encounters Edgar Degas and begins modeling, often in the nude, for a meager yet vital income. Marie’s intelligence and strong spirit are what guide her. She refuses to become another statistic and works diligently to build a better life for herself; until one fateful day when she is faced with a decision that ultimately becomes her undoing.

The Painted Girls will capture the reader from the start. Buchanan dives right in painting a scene that leaves the reader wanting more. How will the girls survive? Will they be successful at the Opéra? Will Marie succeed in creating a better future for herself, and will Antoinette finally realize Émile for what he really is?

As a work of historical fiction, Buchanan does an amazing job of incorporating tidbits of reality making it easier for the reader to relate to the characters and their circumstances. We bond with the girls and find ourselves routing for them and wanting to help them. The ending is, in my opinion, exactly what it should be. It closes off the story nicely and the reader feels complete, not left wanting more.

This book is suitable for young adults, ages 14 and older, and may contain mild uses of violence and/or profanity, sexual content and/or mature themes within the context of the story.

I would give this book a 4 star rating.

*Originally written for publication on the Girl Guides of Canada blog.

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