What were you doing when you were fourteen? Planning a wedding? I thought not.
When I was fourteen, I was in the ninth grade and just beginning to get interested in boys. Living near a grove dense with pine trees, my neighbor friends and I would nestle down on a carpet of pine needles and trade stories of who had a crush on whom. There was no dating—not allowed until we were sixteen—and the closest I got to a boy then was sitting next to one on a bus we took for our class trip. I don’t remember if he asked me to “sit with” him, or if I did the asking, but just the sitting together of couples was a big deal worthy of many pine needle discussions.
Now I’m a grandma and this memory came back to me as I recently read a young adult novel by Mary Osborne. I met Mary at the AWP conference a few weeks ago. She was at her publisher’s table, and I had stopped to browse. Discovering we were both nurses, she gave me a complementary copy of her Nonna’s Book of Mysteries, historical fiction that is part of a series.
Captivated by suspense planted already in the first sentence, I avoided doing anything but read for two solid days. At one point, my husband said, “If you would put that book down for one minute…” I was that engrossed in the life of fourteen-year-old Emilia Serafini living in Florence, Italy, in 1459. Other than my grandchildren living through their fourteenth year without incident, I haven’t thought much about my fourteenth year since, well, since I was fourteen.
In contrast to my life, Emilia’s father already had a husband picked for her—a man “ten years her senior, oil-skinned, humorless, and exacting with numbers” (p.7).
But Emilia wanted to become a painter, not an acceptable profession for women at that time. So, on the suggestion of her mother, Emilia dressed as a boy and got an apprenticeship with a famed painter.
Nothing goes smoothly, though, and the prose kept me hanging through the entire book. Would Emilia have to marry the distasteful sounding fellow? How would her “nonna’s” book on the science of alchemy influence her life? Would she be able to fulfill her desire to learn to paint frescoes and icons like the great masters?
I felt as though I was fourteen lurking on the streets of Florence in the fifteenth century. Certainly different from my experience in a grove of pine trees. And, if you know nothing about the mysteries of alchemy, Nonna’s Book of Mysteries will surely captivate you too.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia (traced off of file: Firenze-Stemma.png)