Sarah's Stars

Melanie Little. The Apprentice's Masterpiece
Annick $19.95  ISBN 978-1-55451-117-4  310 pg.
Reviewed by Lindsey, Age 14

There are two things, though,
you can't miss.
On his robe, just below his right shoulder,
the red patch of the Moors.
Above it, on his cheek, a black
S.
Inked or burned, I can't tell,
right into his nut-colored skin.
Don Barico hasn't brought us a present.
He's brought us a slave.

Ramon and his family live in fifteenth-century Spain, struggling to survive in a world where staying in your house on the Sabbath Day can get you accused as a Jew and burned at the stake. The teenaged boy and his father work in their home as scribes, copying books for clients while his mother cooks and cleans. All is as good as it can be when you have barely enough money for rent and food when Amir shows up, a boy the same age as Ramon. The huge difference between them though, is that Amir is a Muslim and slave and Ramon is his master. The one thing they do have in common though is the affection of Ramon's father or "Papa". Consumed by jealousy and the knowledge that Papa has entrusted Amir with an important secret and not him, Ramon harbours a dangerous grudge. Tensions escalate until one day Ramon goes too far and slaps Amir across the face. The Muslim leaves and does not return. And thus begins a search: a search for a lost boy, a search for work and money and most importantly, a search for forgiveness.

Melanie Little's novel paints a bleak and desolate picture of the Spanish Inquisition. The events that transpire are gripping yet saddening at the same time and the environment that Ramon and Amir live in is incredibly harsh. The book is written in verse and at times the words can be beautiful and poignant but it makes for a quick read. Because there is very little dialogue I found it rather hard to connect with the characters and they all seemed somewhat one-dimensional to me. When I read books I imagine them as little movies in my head but it almost felt to me as if I was "watching" the movie through translucent glass with cotton stuffed in my ears. I read everything that was happening but it didn't really come alive for me. I think this would be a good read for any history fanatics though, as the author has obviously painstakingly researched every last detail. It would even be good for a high school English class as there are plenty of opportunities for good discussions or reports. I think it is suitable for grades 8 and up, not that there is anything inappropriate but I don't think younger readers will find the book interesting. It was gritty and grim but the satisfying ending did a really good job of presenting a hopeful fate for Amir and Ramon.

I give The Apprentice's Masterpiece four stars.

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