Finding historical fiction that engages young adults can be a difficult task. When I read Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, however, I knew that I was on to something.
Belle Epoque follows the story of Maude Pichon, who runs away from home to find adventure in Paris. This historical fiction is perfect for any high school readers with wanderlust in their hearts.
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What Drew Me to Belle Epoque:
Most of my reading lately has been pretty heavy in preparation of a curriculum overhaul. I needed something a little lighter.
A little bit of French romance sounded like the ticket, and, I’ll be honest, the beautiful cover drew me in.
(Fun fact: I have a minor in French, so the little pieces of francais were extra fun for me!)
What Makes Belle Epoque “Lit”?
The premise behind Belle Epoque caught my interest right away. When Maude arrives in Paris, she is desperate for work.
However, she accidentally finds herself working for an agency that only hires ugly women!
These women are meant to be foils to beautiful, upper-class women who hire homely companions. They make their employers appear more attractive by comparison.
Maude is horrified to find that she qualifies for the agency (as most would!), but with rent due in the pricey capital city, she has few options.
One of the threads throughout this novel is Maude’s struggle to maintain her own self-worth while society tells her that she is ugly and plain. I think many of our adolescent students can relate to this feeling.
Heck, a lot of us adults can relate.
As the story goes, Maude meets new people, explores the city, and becomes exposed to art. She learns more about herself. She develops, destroys, and re-establishes friendships as she works to find her own identity–something else we can see our students struggling with daily.
And of course, there is romance. Although, I appreciate that the romance here is less puppy-dog-eyes and more of a loving, mutual appreciation for one another.
Who’s The Perfect Reader for Belle Epoque?
I think this book would be a great addition to your classroom library if you have some teen girls struggling with their own self-esteem, self-worth, or who just love historical fiction.
This is probably not a read for a reluctant reader. It requires some background knowledge–history, geography, artistic movements.
Unless that reluctant reader really loves French history, I’d steer them away from this one.
The right reader won’t shy away from books that aren’t full of action and suspense on every page. They appreciate writing as a craft, and maybe appreciate art as a whole.
Personally, I’m a sucker for any story with corsets and ballrooms. If you have any girls like that in your room, hand them this novel.
Title: Belle Epoque
Author: Elizabeth Ross
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Setting: Victorian France
Main Character: Maude Pichon, a poor, French girl who has run away from an arranged marriage to Paris
Page Numbers: 352
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