Dark and Deepest Red

Feiwel & Friends. Jan. 2020. 320p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250162748.
Gr 8 Up–The story begins in the present day describing Rosella Oliva’s fifth-generation shoe-making family during their town’s yearly “glimmer”: a time of magical happenings one week every October. This time of year the shoes they craft overtake their wearers resulting in impulsive acts of love and desire. To understand why this occurs, readers will travel back to the summer of 1518, when an illness sweeps through Strasbourg, France, causing women to dance uncontrollably until death. Believing that witchcraft or demonic influence is responsible, the authorities blame an unassuming family of Romani descent and endeavor to cast out the evil in their midst. The stories and characters intertwine in short chapters of lush prose and two complex story lines. Rosella and her friend Emil must decide to what extent their respective family histories and the event of 500 years ago will affect their present lives. The author uses Hans Christian Andersen’s morality tale “The Red Shoes” as the basis for an original exploration of hidden sexuality in times past to guide readers’ understanding of LGBTQ issues today. It is a powerful exposé of how differences are misunderstood, judged, and villainized by fear. References to Romani culture/language and early hints at a character’s sexual ambiguity are initially confusing but later clarified. The abrupt transitions back and forth in time become smoother as plotlines and personalities take shape in the author’s sympathetic, heartfelt storytelling.
VERDICT A bold contemporary journey into generational secrets and perceptions of evil and otherness. Not just for fans of fairy tale fantasies, socially conscious teens will find plenty to grapple with here.

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