Maria is the younger daughter of an esteemed family on the island of Murano, the traditional home for Venetian glassmakers. Though she longs to be a glassblower herself, glassblowing is not for daughters—that is her brother’s work. Maria has only one duty to perform for her family: before her father died, he insisted that she be married into the nobility, even though her older sister, Giovanna, should rightfully have that role. Not only is Giovanna older, she’s prettier, more graceful, and everyone loves her.
Maria would like nothing more than to allow her beautiful sister, who is far more able and willing to attract a noble husband, to take over this role for her. But they cannot circumvent their father’s wishes. And when a new young glassblower arrives to help the family business and Maria finds herself drawn to him, the web of conflicting emotions grows even more tangled.
This book was written in verse, which was slightly disappointing to me, but it’s not annoying. In lieu of chapters, there are short little poems detailing all manner of things, from Maria’s father’s history to the glassblowing profession. It was incredibly easy to read, and only took me a few hours. I still remember reading a David Eddings novel where a character tells the protag “glass is just melted sand.” I never forgot that, for some reason, and glassblowing has always held some appeal to me. Maria is an artist among glassblowers, and once her family sat with the Doge at church. But then, someone stole her father’s cristallo recipe, and all was lost. When I first started reading, this struck me as very simplistic, less YA and more middle-grade, but that doesn’t diminish it. Maria knows Giovanna resents her, and that resentment comes through very clearly in the poems. Maria very clearly loves glassblowing, but she’s stuck in her role. Eventually, she is no longer allowed to draw, as she must stay clean as a lady. Maria really chafes at being a lady.
After the initial introduction, we start meeting Maria’s suitors. It’s pretty amusing watching Maria bumble around, and the descriptions of the men are hysterical. One of them says Maria’s age (15) is too old and I gagged a little, but that was the only overtly creepy thing I noticed in these chapters. You know what the suitors’ chapters reminded me of? That scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding were Toula’s father keeps inviting weirdos over to woo her. Each one makes you cringe in a different way. The saddest part is how sad Giovanna is and how it makes her lash out at Maria. Maria is only somewhat baffled by Vanna’s behavior and it made me hurt for them both. Vanna becomes almost vicious in her resentment, and it made me glad I only have brothers. And then, Luca shows up. Luca, who is ungrateful and snobby when we first meet him even though he’s from the laboring class, much lower than Maria’s family in status.
Luca, of course, has a story. He’s not just a jerk, he’s a jerk for a reason. I had my suspicions about him from the very first word he spoke, but I won’t spoil anything. He’s got his issues, but he’s like most other YA heroes, really. Aren’t all hero/ines in YA the same in the end? I think they are. It takes a lot to make them stand out on their own. Even some of my favorites (Evie from Paranormalcy, Clara from Unearthly, etc) are cut from a standard cloth. Near the middle of the book, Vanna seems to have a change of heart, though I remained suspicious of her as well. Maria doesn’t really realize what’s happening between herself and Luca, plus she feels this intense pressure to help her family, especially after a storm hits their island. And maybe this is just because of the poems, but I didn’t feel anything between Luca and Maria. We were being told instead of shown, I think. I really didn’t see any passion between them. They hardly see each other at all up to this point.
In the end, there is some of the passion I was looking for between Luca and Maria, but what was really interesting was the sisterly scheming. I really liked the relationship between Vanna and Maria (once Vanna stopped being a jerk). I felt like this was more a story of family and change than a romance, and I liked it better for it. If you like little historical romances, I think this one is going to be for you. It’s short and sweet, and the verse really flows after you get used to it. It comes out in exactly two weeks!