Review of The Passion of Dolssa

berry_passion of dolssastar2 The Passion of Dolssa
by Julie Berry
Middle School, High School    Viking    482 pp.
4/16    978-0-451-46992-2    $18.99    g

Berry (All the Truth That’s in Me, rev. 11/13) tells the story of (fictional) Catholic mystic Dolssa de Stigata after she escapes being burned as a heretic in 1241 Toulouse, France; mostly, however, it’s the story of Botille, an enterprising young matchmaker from a tiny fishing village who rescues Dolssa from starvation and detection, and thus puts herself and her village in mortal danger. Berry constructs her novel as a 1290 account by a monk, and employs both first- and third-person narrations — from Botille to Dolssa to the vengeful Dominican Friar Lucien who pursues Dolssa, and more. If this makes the reading experience choppy at times, it doesn’t matter: Botille’s spirited, down-to-earth character and style, the heart-rending suspense of the events she relates, and the terrifying context of the Inquisition in medieval Europe all render the novel irresistibly compelling. So too does the female solidarity Berry portrays among Botille and her sisters (tavern-keeper and fortuneteller) and their loyalty to the woman they rescue. Berry writes in short sentences with relatively simple language, conveying complex historical and religious matters fluently and accessibly for today’s readers. Her thoughtful, sober historical note places the story’s thirteenth-century issues in a valuable modern context; also appended are two glossaries (for Old Provençal and Latin words), a list of place names, and a bibliography.

From the March/April 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Deirdre Baker
Deirdre Baker
Deirdre F. Baker, a reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and the Toronto Star, teaches children’s literature at the University of Toronto. The author of Becca at Sea (Groundwood), she is currently at work on a sequel—written in the past tense.

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