The Poetry of Secrets

Scholastic. Feb. 2021. 416p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781338634181.
Gr 7 Up–At 16, Isabel Perez, a Jewish teenager of the 15th century living in Trujillo, Spain, manages more than the books for her family’s wine business; she’s determined to fall in love with someone her poems only imagine, even if her refusal to marry the town constable kills her and her family—her parents, Abuela, and younger sister Beatriz. The resolution of this tension informs much of the novel, although Abuela, who teaches her granddaughters to read in secret, just as her own grandmother had done, shows that rebellion goes back over many generations. Gordon sets these willful characters against the Spanish Inquisition, and the repression, violence, and torture of Jews, Muslims, and anyone else who opposed the country’s Roman Catholic orthodoxy. Isabel’s family passes for Catholic but privately celebrates their Jewish faith; Beatriz, miserable and critical of their façade, threatens to leave and enter a convent. When Isabel encounters Diego Altamirano, who’s as irresistible as he is unavailable, their love story is predictably romantic, despite the frenzied flight of the Perez family from Spain and the years of separation that result. This book articulates the fear and deception that define living in secret: None of the options—“passing,” converting, rebelling—are safe. It’s Isabel, the idealized heroine, whose quest propels the narrative to its eventual happy ending, while the fate of Beatriz, who’s not as smart, pretty, or beloved, is less joyful.
VERDICT An ambitious epic of the Spanish Inquisition seen through the eyes of a rebellious young woman whose Jewish family faces persecution and death.

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