Eleven-year-old Isabelle carries on her family’s trade as lacemakers in Versailles with great skill. Living with her harsh-tempered grandmother and sickly mother is not easy, but 18th century France offers no opportunities to the struggling working class. At least not until Isabelle must deliver some lace to a noblewoman at the royal palace and, nearly trampled by courtiers, is saved by Marie Antoinette herself. The queen decides that Isabelle would make a lovely playmate for her daughter Therese. Isabelle finds visiting the palace exciting, but the rumblings of revolution can be heard everywhere. How safe is it for Isabelle to remain Therese’s companion?
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley presents a realistic view of life in pre-revolutionary France: the lavish and superficial lifestyle of the nobles, the destitution of the common people and the general lack of healthy living conditions for everyone two hundred years ago. Indeed, many young girls will be surprised to learn that even princesses had bedbugs in their rooms. Although Isabelle did not actually exist, Therese did have a young companion from among the commoners, who managed to escape before the royal family was incarcerated. Bradley also gives a fair account of the controversial and complex figure of Marie Antoinette. While her book is well-written, some younger readers may be puzzled or troubled by references to marital infidelity.
Jennifer Minicus is a mother and teacher currently living in Ridgewood, NJ.