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The Smile


The Smile

In the 1490s, in the outskirts of the city of Florence, a young girl named Elisabetta excitedly makes plans with her mother for her big party. Her father hopes the celebration will attract a wealthy nobleman interested in a marriage match to his only child. While their family is considered noble class as well, their silk business is struggling to produce profits. A lucrative match would help the entire family. Elisabetta, on the other hand, dreams of falling in love.

Then, Lorenzo de’ Medici, one of the most powerful men in Florence, dies. While attending the funeral, Elisabetta and her parents run into an old friend, a famous painter and inventor named Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo is charmed by Elisabetta and declares that one day he will paint her portrait. She is honored by his words but is even more captivated when he introduces her to Lorenzo’s youngest son, Giuliano. Elisabetta can’t seem to get him out of her head or her heart. He makes her smile and calls her Mona Lisa.

Unfortunately, the next time they meet is at the funeral of Elisabetta’s mother, who dies in a horrible accident that changes her life forever. Overcome with grief, Elisabetta throws herself into the family business and cooking responsibilities, even though a lady of her class shouldn’t be doing so. Keeping busy helps her feel useful, but she seems to have lost the joy she used to experience in life. Then her heart breaks yet again when her father remarries before even a year has passed, and to a woman only a few years older than Elisabetta.

Times are changing fast and the city of Florence begins to crumble. War threatens and new leaders alter the rules. However, Elisabetta does find a bit of hope in her all-too-brief encounters with Giuliano. That is, until the Medici family is exiled. Will Elisabetta ever smile again?

In THE SMILE, Donna Jo Napoli brings the famous Leonardo painting to life with such warmth and rich detail that defies its fiction classification. She writes with an elegant style that not only complements her themes on social class issues but also is a pleasure to read. In addition, she touches upon the topics of how little choice women of this time period have and the ultra importance of art in human lives. Napoli has given her readers another masterpiece.

Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman on October 16, 2008

The Smile
by Donna Jo Napoli

  • Publication Date: September 3, 2009
  • Genres: Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Speak
  • ISBN-10: 0142414921
  • ISBN-13: 9780142414927