Reviews for Belle Epoque

Booklist Reviews 2013 April #2
Maude, 16 and homeless, makes her way from provincial Brittany to Paris, determined to claim a place in its shimmering heart. But life at the close of the nineteenth century is hard. Maude struggles to make her way and soon finds herself a repoussoir at the Durandeau Agency, a plain girl rented out to the cream of society to make their own daughters shine in comparison. In no time, she is employed by a countess and attached to Isabelle, a debutante of surprising integrity. Maude is soon caught in a web of deceit, torn between her employer and her friend, between splendor and substance, and between reality and dreaming. She clings to the work that keeps her afloat, dazzled by the splendor of society and intrigued by Isabelle's secret plans for university, all the while tamping down her own, growing hopes for a small piece of happiness that just might include Paul, a floppy, charming bohemian musician. With resonant period detail, elegant narration, and a layered exploration of class and friendship, this provocative novel is ripe with satisfaction. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2013 Fall
Maude's work for a French agency that provides unattractive companions to heighten the appearance of their socialite clients results in an unexpected friendship with a wealthy young woman and a deeper sense of personal aspiration. Ross provides interesting historical details about late-nineteenth-century Paris, but her two heroines behave like modern young women, and the pat conclusion isn't very convincing.

Kirkus Reviews 2013 May #1
The aristocrats and the poor clash in 1888-9 Paris. Most Parisians dislike the new tower under construction by Monsieur Eiffel, but Maude, a 16-year-old who has run away from home, loves what others see as a monstrosity. Maude, too, is a monstrosity to some. A girl with no better than plain features, she nearly starves until she takes a job as a repoussoir. Wealthy women hire ugly women such as Maude to join them in public so that they will shine all the brighter in comparison. Countess Dubern hires Maude as a companion for her daughter Isabelle during the girl's first social season, with the expectation that Maude will steer Isabelle into an engagement with the handsome and wealthy Duke d'Avaray. Rebellious Isabelle intends to study science at the Sorbonne instead, refusing to marry. The two girls develop a real friendship, leaving Maude torn between her job and her loyalty to Isabelle. Ross models her plot on an 1866 story by Zola, "Les Repoussoirs," expanding its focus to highlight Maude's plight and using that to illuminate the chasm that existed between the wealthy and the poor. Maude, with her artistic insight, her pluck and her intelligence, despite her lack of formal education, perhaps comes across as a less-than-typical adolescent of that time but holds readers' interest throughout. A refreshingly relevant and inspiring historical venture. (Historical fiction. 12 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 May #1

Sixteen-year-old runaway Maude Pichon is ugly--so much so that she lands a job as a "repoussoir," an unattractive girl paid to be seen with a lovelier girl to make her appear even more beautiful by comparison (in a note, Ross explains that this fictional profession derives from an 1866 Zola short story). Maude is humiliated by the idea, but her poverty leaves her few options. When chance sends a dashing composer Maude's way, and a countess hires her to befriend her independent-minded daughter, Isabelle, readers will see the potential for a happy ending. Ross offers not one, but two strong heroines in her debut novel, both navigating the choppy waters of the Paris debutante season, albeit from different social classes. Though Maude is the chief protagonist (and narrator), Isabelle is highly engaging as a young woman determined to challenge the expectations of her gender and study science at a university. Both touching and fun, this is a story about many things--true friendship, real beauty, being caught between two worlds--and it will delight fans of historical fiction. Ages 12-up. Agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (June)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2013 June

Gr 6-8--Inspired by Emile Zola's short story Les Repoussoirs, this debut novel takes place during the late 1800s. Maude Pichon, a runaway, discovers life in Paris to be crueler and much less romantic than she imagined from her country home in provincial Brittany. To get by, she takes a job as a repoussoir, a young woman hired for her ugliness and used to highlight the beauty of her patroness. Maude's first client is a challenge: a headstrong young woman named Isabel, who is unaware that Maude has been hired by her mother to act as Isabel's beauty foil. But as the lines of friendship are blurred by her responsibilities, what will Maude choose? Should she stay true to her friend at the expense of her career or continue to be the mother's puppet, potentially sacrificing Isabel's happiness? This is a compelling story about friendship, the complexity of beauty, and self-discovery. It is full of strong female characters driven by the pursuit of their dreams rather than pursuit of a husband, thus defying their societal roles. Maude's evolution and development are believable, and are the driving force of the plot. Her journey from the proletariat to the elite and back again gives readers a comprehensive picture of Parisian life during the Belle Epoque.--Tiffany O'Leary, Mount Saint Mary College, NY

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VOYA Reviews 2013 August
Belle Epoque is the story of Maude Pichon, a runaway who lives in Paris in the late 1880s. Desperate for work, Maude begrudgingly takes a job at the Durandeau Agency as a repoussoir, a woman who is hired as the unappealing or ugly "friend" as a means of highlighting the attractiveness of high society women. Despite dealing with the emotional conflict and self-esteem issues that go along with this position, Maude manages to befriend girls at the agency and find a potential love interest in a young man named Paul. Maude's inner conflict increases as she finds herself growing closer to her assigned "friend" Isabelle, the daughter of Countess Dubern, who has no idea that Maude is a hired foil. The period and passage of time is clearly marked by the ongoing construction, and ultimately the opening, of the Eiffel tower. In the author's notes, Ross explains the inspiration behind and research that went into the piece, but ultimately this story may have worked better in the present time. Maude's inner conflict and ultimate realizations will leave readers ready for discussion. The unique and interesting concept will appeal to readers, even those who otherwise might not be drawn to period pieces. Belle Epoque is a great addition to a library collection and would make an appealing book club selection.--Shana Morales 4Q 3P J Copyright 2011 Voya Reviews.