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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

eARC Review: Sisters of Glass

TITLE: Sisters of Glass      AUTHOR: Stephanie Hemphill
PUB: Knopf Books               PUB DATE: 3/27/12
FORMAT: eARC                 SOURCE: Netgalley

Maria is the younger daughter of an esteemed family on the island of Murano, the traditional home for Venetian glassmakers. Though she longs to be a glassblower herself, glassblowing is not for daughters—that is her brother's work. Maria has only one duty to perform for her family: before her father died, he insisted that she be married into the nobility, even though her older sister, Giovanna, should rightfully have that role. Not only is Giovanna older, she's prettier, more graceful, and everyone loves her. Maria would like nothing more than to allow her beautiful sister, who is far more able and willing to attract a noble husband, to take over this role for her. But they cannot circumvent their father's wishes. And when a new young glassblower arrives to help the family business and Maria finds herself drawn to him, the web of conflicting emotions grows even more tangled

THREE FOUR WORDS: Good Story, Wrong Execution

MY REVIEW: I really had no expectations (positive or negative) at all when I starting reading Sisters of Glass by Stephanie Hemphill, and while I actually enjoyed much of the story itself, I think the overall execution was lacking.

Sisters of Glass is a historical fiction novel, written in verse, that centers around a Venetian family of glassblowers that live on the island of Murano. Before he died, Angelo Barovier declared that his youngest and favorite daughter would marry a senator, even though this honor and responsibility should really go to Giovanna, the eldest daughter. Maria does not wish to marry a senator and would rather be a glassmaker like her brothers, but as her sixteenth birthday looms, Maria’s mother begins to seek a suitable husband for her younger daughter in order to secure the family’s finances. All the attention placed on Maria puts a strain on her once close relationship with her older sister. And things get even more complicated with the arrival of Luca, the new glassblower.

I don’t read much historical fiction, but I did enjoy the world and time that Hemphill has described and explored in this novel. And I was truly intrigued by the story itself and found myself very invested in the complicated and rocky relationship between the two Barovier sisters.

Hemphill does a great job of creating very tangible emotions throughout the book. Both Maria’s feelings of inadequacy compared to her older sister and Giovanna’s jealousy of her little sister are easily felt and wonderfully explored. Hemphill has given both girls such complex and intriguing layers and I found both characters dimensional. And I easily connected with both sisters and found myself sympathetic of each sister’s turmoil- Maria’s fears of disappointing her family and Giovanna’s heartache from feeling unloved and not worthy.

My biggest issue with this book is the way it has been executed. I love poetry and I love books written in verse, and while the book claims to be written in verse, and really isn’t. Instead of being made up of individual, yet interconnecting poems, it seems as if the book’s prose has simply been broken up and manipulated to look like a bunch of “poems”.  While there is some truly beautiful and powerful imagery in this book, and Hemphill’s writing is quite lovely, the “verse” style just feels lacking and forced. I think the book would have worked better if it had been written in traditional prose.

While I think Maria and Giovanna are nicely developed, all of the other characters are lacking serious development. Perhaps the rest of the Barovier family isn’t meant to be important to the story as a whole, but I do think the character of Luca is significant and I’m disappointed with how flat his character is. I wanted to get caught up in Maria’s feelings for Luca, but found the whole romance hard to believe in simply because the Luca she falls for is not the Luca presented to readers. And by that, I mean it seems as if Hemphill must have created this swoon-worthy, compelling Luca in her head and when she wrote about Maria’s feelings for him, it is this imaginary Luca that she refers to, yet somehow she forgot to introduce this guy to her readers…does that make any sense at all?!

The ending is pretty predictable, but satisfying nonetheless.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS: I feel like there’s so much potential within this book for a romantic, emotional story but the chosen form and execution limited this potential greatly. Sisters of Glass has an interesting enough premise and two intriguing female characters, but a lack of character and story development, along with the execution, kept me from loving this book.
3/5 Cupcakes

Find the author: Goodreads 
Purchase: Amazon / B&N / Book Dep
Stephanie Hemphill's first novel in poems, Things Left Unsaid, was published by Hyperion in 2005 and was awarded the 2006 Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Excellence in Poetry by the Children's Literature Council of Southern California. Her second novel, a verse portrait of Sylvia Plath, Your Own, Sylvia was published by Knopf in March 2007. A third novel in verse for teens, Wicked Girls, a verse story of the Salem witch trials, will come out from Hyperion in the spring of 2009. Stephanie received an SCBWI Magazine Merit Award in Poetry and chaired the PEN Award's Children's Literature Committee. She has been writing, studying and presenting poetry for adults and children for many years at UCLA, the University of Illinois (where she received an award from The Academy of American Poets), with Writers at Work and at conferences across the country. Stephanie lives in Los Angeles. 

1 comment:

Christina said...

I reviewed this last week and had pretty much the same opinion you do. The book really read like choppy prose, rather than poetry.

It really seemed like Hemphill didn't have enough content for a full-length book in prose, so she decided to hit enter every few words and call it poetry. Ugh. Even as poetry, the book is exceedingly brief.

Still, the story was cute and charming, so I gave it three stars as well.