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While on his way home, on the last day of the school year, Thomas Rose happens upon a girl hiding in a ditch. She first introduces herself as Ling (and then later tells him her name is Hélène). She's spying on Master Stubbs, a mysterious man who many in the village know little or nothing about. She's been informed that Stubbs has purchased "her" horse, Belladonna –-- and Ling wants Belladonna back. The trouble is, Belladonna is not really her horse, and even though Stubbs bought the horse at the market, he didn't keep it for himself. Thus begins an adventure and a love story for two young people.

Belladonna is a show horse, a circus performer. She's pure white in color, except for her tail, which is "the color of barley." Hélène formed a bond with her when they performed in the circus together. Belladonna belonged to the circus troupe leader, Augustin, but Hélène considers the horse to be hers and will do everything she can to find her and get her back. Thomas helps reunite the girl with her horse. In the process, the two of them fall in love. But due to circumstances beyond their control, their future is uncertain.

Mary Finn has written a beautiful tale of an English boy who falls in love with a French girl. The story takes place in England in 1757, when England and France are at war with each other. Thomas is the son of a wheelwright; as such, we learn a bit about the trade. He also has a learning disability --– he can't read, though can overcome it through creative means. Finn throws in French words and phrases, as well as some words from the Romani language, which gypsies used during that period. Also, several of the characters in the book are real historical figures --- George Stubbs, Mary Spencer, John Nelthorpe, John Harrison and James Harrison.

Once I adjusted to the Olde English writing style, I was able to appreciate the lyrical aspect of the language. It is indeed beautifully written. In addition to being such a great read, BELLADONNA is educational, for all the reasons mentioned. Do yourself a favor and read this book.

Reviewed by Christine M. Irvin on October 18, 2011

by Mary Finn

  • Publication Date: June 14, 2011
  • Genres: Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick
  • ISBN-10: 0763651060
  • ISBN-13: 9780763651060