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The passion of Dolssa : a novel
2016
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***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof*** Copyright © 2016 Julie Berry The Convent of the Jacobins, Tolosa I must write this account, and when I have finished, I will burn it. Mine is the historian's task, to record the events of the last century, showing God's mighty hand in ridding these southern lands between the Garona and the Ròse rivers of the heresy of the Albigensians. I am asked to show future generations how God's justice was carried out by the crusade against these so-called "good men" ( bons omes ), "good women" ( bonas femnas ), and "friends of God" ( amicx de Dieu ), and how the inquisitions that followed, wrought by my brother Dominicans, finished God's holy work. The collected records of more than half a century of inquisitorial toil are mine to examine: transcripts, testimonies, and confessions from a generation now all but extinct. When searching out a history, sifting through a thousand facts and ten thousand lives, one often uncovers pieces that do not fit. The prudent choice is to cast those details aside, like chaff into the fire. The story must be understandable. The moral should be clear. Perhaps I am not a prudent man. I found pieces that haunted me, voices echoing from parchment leaves that would not let me sleep at night. I could find no rest until I searched out the truth, studied what I could learn about those involved, and found a way, with, I pride myself, a minimum of invention, to make the pieces fit. If only for me. There are those who would say this record casts doubt upon the righteousness of the Church's work. Which is why this book, written for my private satisfaction, must not outlive me. I myself have never been an inquisitor. I was, I confess, not cut out for it. But I was a patient laborer in the fields of knowledge, and so to Tolosa's archives I was sent after my university studies in París. Here I have spent nearly thirty years. It was in the days when Count Raimon's daughter Joana still ruled as Comtessa de Tolosa, before Provensa came under the rule of the king of Fransa, and when I, myself, was new to this vocation, that the bishop of Tolosa, himself a former inquisitor of renown, came home to the Convent of the Jacobins to spend his final days. It happened that I served in the hospice one evening. The ailing bishop began to speak to me. He seemed impelled to tell his tale. He confessed to a secret doubt that had plagued him through- out his life--unease over whether he had done God's will in one particular case. I reassured him with all my heart that he had done his best to serve the Lord. He thanked me with tears. In the morning, he was gone. Some months after, I found papers belonging to a priest in a seacoast  vila , a priest known for composing sacred songs of great beauty. The papers made it clear he was not their author. A woman had written them, and with them, a curious and troubling account of her own spiritual journey. Names and places in the woman's account reminded me of the old bishop's testimony. And so I wondered. Later still, a lengthy narrative from a friar in Barçalona fell into my hands, painstakingly recorded. The pieces of my mystery at last began to fit. I puzzled over its connecting threads. Finally, and perhaps, rashly, I decided to stitch the pieces together, however clumsily, and record it. The gaps and errors in the sewing are my own; of its overall completeness, however, I feel certain. These voices from the past had arisen like ghosts demanding to be heard. This, I will confess, is one of the secret thrills of my historical work. But listening too closely to those voices, in these times in which I live, may also be its most terrible danger BOTILLE I swear to tell the full and exact truth about myself and others, living and dead. Why keep secrets? There's no one it would help. The dead are all I have to talk about, anyway. What harm can there be in telling their stories now? They are safe, beyond reach. There was a time when my name was Botille, when I lived with my sisters and our old Jobau. We lived by our wits, and great buckets of nerve, and anything-- anything --we could steal, or sell. Like most in Provensa, we'd seen hunger and illness. We'd grown up in Carcassona, a city broken by the crusaders before we were born. But what was yesterday's war to little girls? We'd lost our mother. That was all we had room for. She left each of us her love, her reputation, two sisters, and Jobau. And one silver crucifix to share. We begged for our dinner and stole washing from peasants to clothe little Sazia. We huddled together to keep warm at night. Jobau's drinking and his temper harried us from town to town at the hands of the  bayles . We were wanderers, survivors, always searching for a home. We thrived upon it. Greedy little urchins, foolhardy little thieves. Now I see we were magic, my sisters and I. We laughed at ourselves, at Jobau and the world. Nobody's ever made me laugh like my cynical little Sazia could. You wouldn't think it to know her now. We gave Plazensa, the eldest, fits of rage with our cheek. Life was sweet, though I doubt we realized how much. Home was each other. Not walls, but the adventure of the search to find them. Our wanderings led us to a small seaside town called Bajas, and there, among vintners and fishermen, we saw an opening and decided to seek a home. We washed our faces and combed our hair and tried to make something more of ourselves. We swore we'd give up thieving. We'd grown old enough to know it was safer to be inside the law, and the arms of the  vila , than out of them. We took over an old derelict tavern and dared to run it. Plazensa's brewing, our scrubbing, Sazia's fortune-telling, and my hustle brought customers in. We began to feel that we might belong, and others counted us among their neighbors and friends. Finally and forever, I believed, we could be safe. Then I met Dolssa. DOLSSA The summons came from Dominus Roger, him who'd baptized me and taught me to reverence the body and blood. Our own parish priest came to lead me to the cloister of the abbey church of Sant Sarnin, the great cathedral of Tolosa. The inquisitors wished to speak with me. My mother turned pale. She pulled me into her chamber under pretense of wrapping a scarf around me. "Daughter, hear me quickly," she said. "Answer as little as possible. Don't upset them. Say nothing about your preaching, and certainly nothing about your beloved." I would have none of this. Who were they, that I should fear them? "Speak only as you are," was her warning. "A modest and true Christian maiden. Be humble. Be still." "But Mamà," I said, "why would I be otherwise?"   "My darling," she pleaded. "You don't fear them, but you should. Inquisitors have made Count Raimon send hundreds of heretics to the fires. Their verdicts--not even he dares resist them. Not anymore." She rested her forehead against mine. "You were too young to know all that happened during the war years, and even since. Your papà and I shielded you from it as best we could." I was aghast. "What has that to do with me, Mamà? I'm no heretic! Is that what you believe of me?" "Hush!" Mamà glanced at the door. "Of course you're not. You know how I feel. But you  are  different. You are . . ." She hesitated. "Your words give you authority. You have believers. This is some- thing the inquisitors can't ignore." "My beloved does not fear them, nor keep silence," I told her. The waiting priest tapped at the door. We both felt caught. Mamà's whisper became an urgent breath in my ear. "Youth makes you bold. Love makes you trusting. But it is madness to provoke these inquisitors. They will not like what you say about your love. Not when you're so young, and a girl." I waited for her to finish. There was no point in vexing her. But she knew she had lost. "God knows I will stand by you, come what may." Her grip upon my arms was tight. "For my sake, guard your tongue to guard your life, my daughter."   DOLSSA DE STIGATA , THE ACCUSED Testimony recorded by Lucien The Cloister of t he Abbey Church of Sant Sarnin, Tolosa You wish to speak with me, Friar Lucien? Prior Pons? My priest said you wished to ask me questions. I have seen you, Friar, in the street. You pass by our house often. Tell me, what is it like to live in a convent? To take holy vows along with others? I've often wondered. My mother prayed and planned for me to enter the cloister. The thought was sweet, in a way. But my beloved told me my path was different. Silence does not serve his purpose for my life. He asks me to tell others about our love. All right. You shall ask the questions, and I will answer. Oc,  I reject all heresy and false belief, and cling to the true Catholic faith. Oc , I swear to tell the full and exact truth about myself and others, living or dead. Non,  I have never seen a heretic. I do not know any of the  bons omes  nor  bonas femnas  that are called heretics. I have lived a very sheltered life in my parents' home.  Non , I have never listened to their preaching, nor helped them, nor fed them, nor carried gifts for them. How could I? I rarely even leave my house, Friar. I am eighteen years old.   My name, as you well know, is Dolssa de Stigata. My father was Senhor Gerald de Stigata. He was a knight. He died five years ago last spring. My mother is Na Pitrella Braida de Stigata. I live with her and our few servants in my father's ancestral home here in Tolosa. I, preach? In my home,  oc . I have shared my thoughts with relatives and friends on a few occasions. That is where you heard me? Through a window. You saw me. I preach that my beloved Christ is the ardent lover of all souls. That he stands beckoning to all God's children, to come taste of his goodness. To be one with him, as he is one with me. Why  do I preach this? Good friar-preacher, you who wear the mantle of Blessed Dominic the Preacher, I could ask the same of you! Oc . In this room, questions are yours to ask. I preach because my beloved calls me to. My one desire is to shine his love into the world. What? Oh! Oc , since you ask, I'm laughing. How can I not? You wondered, how do I know the devil hasn't tricked me? I can only answer, if it is the devil who teaches people to trust in the love of Jhesus, then what, I wonder, should we call men of the cloth like you? Far less impertinent, good friar, than you calling my beloved a devil. Remember who my beloved is. Plainly, friar, I am a  femna , and yet I speak. I do as my beloved urges me to do. Who shall forbid what my beloved commands? Oc , Sant Paul said it was a shame for women to speak in church, but I do not speak in church. I worship in church, and I speak in my own home, as a Christian woman is free to do. But  oc , you guess rightly. If my beloved bid me to speak in church, I would do it. My beloved is greater than Sant Paul. Surely, you would not argue that an apostle's words are greater than the Lord's? The apostles didn't listen to Santa Maria Magda- lena, either, though she was right when she told them she had seen her Lord risen from the tomb. You accuse me of heresy. Oc , I am listening. I'll give you my answer. I can no more retract or deny what I have said about my be- loved than I could choose to stop breathing. Against my will, breath would flow into my lungs; against your will, speech will flow from them also. If you seek to silence me, I will only cry more urgently. My beloved's praise will not go unsung, not so long as I have breath. Oc , I know who you are. I know what you claim you can do to me. How can I fear you with my beloved beside me? His arm is mightier than all flesh, and I know he will protect me. BOTILLE   Istruga picked, of course, the worst time possible to tell me. We wore our hair dandled up in rags to keep it off our hot necks, allowing the sun to burn our sweaty skin. Our oldest, flimsiest skirts we had pulled snug between our legs and pinned to our backs. There we were, thigh-deep in juice, stomping, squashing, mashing the cool, slimy grapes under our heels and deliciously through our toes, while the harvesters clapped and laughed and sang to Focho de Capa's  fidel . It was a party. A frolic. And a bit of an exhibition. Astruga's thighs--purple, even--were nothing to be ashamed of, and as for mine, skin was skin, wasn't it? The sky was blue, the air was hot, the sea breeze stirring our little  vila  of Bajas was playful, and the splashing new wine was sweet on my lips, its perfume rich enough to knock me over and drown me happily in the old winepress. And that was when Astruga told me she was pregnant. Not in so many words, of course. "Look at the buffoons." Sweat rolled in rivers off her wine-red cheeks. Jacme and Andrio had linked their beefy, sun-tanned arms and were now swinging each other in idiotic loops, bawling out their song, while the other men slapped themselves and howled, and the married women shrieked with laughter. Jacme and Andrio were great laughers, those two. "They're a pair, all right," I said. My thighs ached from all the stomping, but the music compelled us onward. I'd waited ages for my turn in the press. I wasn't about to flag now. Astruga showed no signs of slowing. She leaped like a salmon through her sea of sticky wine. Always a restless one, Astruga. "I need one." Maire Maria! She needed a man. Today, not tomorrow. I sighed. Harvest frolics were known for this. All those  tozẹts  with their lusty eyes upon her, her buoyant chest bouncing practically into her eyeballs, and her skirts tucked up and pinned over her bottom . . . Of course she would feel herself in a mood to pick one of these young men, like a grape off the vine, and crush him against the roof of her mouth. Across Na Pieret di Fabri's neat vineyards, chestnut trees blazed with fall color, while dark, narrow cypress pines stood sentinel. Past the trees was the village proper, Bajas, crowning its round hilltop like a bald man's hat, and beyond it, the brilliant blue lagoon of the sea, my sea, that cradled and fed tiny Bajas, and con- nected her to the entire world. Paradise had stiff competition in our corner of Creation. Jacme chose that moment to scoop a handful of pulpy juice out of the vat and pour it down his throat. Purple dribbles bled into his stubbly beard. He winked at us, and old Na Pieret de Fabri, whose vineyards these were, whacked him harmlessly with her hat. I looked at all our sweaty purple  tozẹts . Great overgrown boys they were, though I supposed I must call them men. "After we're done, you can take your pick of  omes ." "Botille," Astruga said, her smile still as bright, "I need to speak with you." I lowered my weary leg and caught my breath. I knew what those words meant. Astruga capered like a baby goat, kicking up her heels and splashing wine into the open, leering mouths of the  tozẹts dancing around the vat. And now I knew why, why she'd bribed Ramunda, whose turn in the winepress it ought to have been, to give her this chance to bounce and spin in her purple skin for all Bajas to see. She needed a husband, and fast. Perhaps, she had reasoned, if she played today well, she could find herself one. Or I could. For that was my job in Bajas. Most  tozas  helped the family business of catching fish or harvesting salt. Some spun wool or silk; others wove baskets, or helped their papàs and mamàs fashion clay pots. Countless others grew vegetables and tied and trimmed grapevines. But I, I caught suitors, harvested bridegrooms, wove dowries, fashioned courtships, grew families, and tied and trimmed the unruly passions of our hot-blooded young people into acceptable marriages. I brought them all to Dominus Bernard's altar in the end. Only sometimes, as now, with a baby on the way, I did not have the luxury of time to plot and plan. I watched Astruga's eyes linger on Jacme's broad face. "Jacme?" I whispered. She shrugged. "He'll do." I danced a little closer to her. "Is it he?" She looked away, and shook her head. I danced in a circle around her. If she wanted my help, she'd best not turn her eyes away from me. "Who is the father?" She turned the other way, like a naughty little  toza  who won't confess to stealing the honey. "Tell me," I pressed. "I have ways of making the father marry you." And I did. My sisters and I--we had ways all our own. The high flush in Astruga's cheeks cooled. "Not this time, Botille." Ah. He was married already, then. Well, no matter; Astruga was young and fresh. Weren't all the  tozẹts  adoring her even now? This would be easy for me. "Are you working on another match right now?"  "Maybe." "If you marry off that cow Sapdalina before me, I swear, I'll claw her eyes out." It  was  Sapdalina's troth I was working on, and while I wouldn't call her a cow, per se, she was a challenging case. At least she wasn't pregnant. "That would hardly be fair to Sapdalina," I observed. Her angry face fell. "Oh, please, Botille. I'll do anything. You've got to help me." Astruga's skirt came unpinned and sank into the wine. She squealed and snatched it up, then thrust the soiled cloth into her mouth to suck out the blood-dark juice. Just then the church bells rang, and she let the skirt fall once more. I looked toward the village, with its white stone walls, its rising houses ready to teeter and topple one another, and the brown square bell tower of the church of Sant Martin. She'd shown me what, if I hadn't had a head full of wine and  fidel  tunes, my instincts should have smelled before Astruga had even spoken a word. The fruit growing in her vineyard was planted by a handsome rake, a delightful talker, a charmer if ever there was one, and the source of all my best clients. I owed him, really. Already a growing list of roly-poly babies had him as the  papà  they would never know. Dominus Bernard, Bajas's priest at the church of Sant Martin. " Acabansa ! Finished!" Focho de Capa, self-proclaimed lord of the revels, scooped a ladle of syrupy juice from the vat and drank it with great flourish.  "Bon an!"  A good year, good for the grapes. We climbed out of the vat. Itier pulled us each out by the wrist onto the platform next to the press and planted wine-stained kisses on our cheeks. We climbed down the ladder. Astruga let herself be seized about the waist by frizzle-headed Itier and led off to the table that had been set up, spread with bread, cheese, salmon, and roasted vegetables. I lingered behind to wipe a bit of the juice off my arms with a rag Na Pieret di Fabri handed me. Widow Pieret's eyes were still as blue as  la mar , though her face was brown as carved chestnut and creased with as many deep grooves. Her husband, related to the lords of Bajas, had been a vintner, but his death, five years back, left Na Pieret to manage his great vineyards alone. It had been a terrible blow. Still, Na Pieret, who had never been weakened by childbearing, had borne up under the burden admirably. But today, though she smiled, she seemed tired. "What is it,  ma maire ?" I genuflected, a courtesy owed to a great lady of advanced years, then I rose and kissed her cheek. All old women were "my mother," but Na Pieret was someone I could almost wish were my mother. "Ack! You are covered in  viṇ ." She patted my cheek. "Smart Botille. Not a thing happens in this village but what you have a hand in it, is there?" "Oh, pah." I unraveled the damp rags from around my hair. "I won't take the blame for everything." Na Pieret leaned against the handle of her cane. I noticed her head quiver slightly. "I need your help, Botille." She spoke quietly. "I can't run the vineyards anymore." I saw how much it hurt her to speak these words, though she said them simply and without self-pity. "But your hired help, surely. They do the work for you,  non ?" I looked over to the feast table, where half a dozen of her hands lounged, stuffing their faces. "Are they lazy? Do they steal from you? Sazia and Plazensa and I can put a stop to that. We'll teach them a lesson--" "No, no." Na Pieret squinted her eyes against the rays of the setting sun. "They are only as lazy as any other laborers ever were. No, they are kind to me." "Then what is it?" "I need a strong back, and eyes I can trust. I need someone who cares about the grapes like they are his own. But you know I have no children to entrust them to." The wine on my skin had dried to a slimy, sticky sheen, and I began to itch. Hot breezes from the south did nothing to help. "My mother had two daughters," Na Pieret went on. "My younger sister died last winter, leaving her two sons orphans, seven leagues from here, in San Cucufati." "Oh?" She nodded. "I want you to bring them to me. I will give them the farm, and they shall become my sons." Seven leagues? I pictured myself traveling seven long leagues with two quarrelsome little  eṇfans  in tow. What did she think I was, a nursemaid? "How old are they?" Na Pieret pursed her lips. "They were sturdy, useful children when I met them last," she said, "thirteen years ago." I smiled, and looked over at Astruga, busy stuffing a piece of bread into Itier's mouth. "Is either of them married?"   "Botille!" Na Pieret laughed. "You haven't become one of the desperate  tozas  yourself, have you?" " Non , Na Pieret." I took her by the elbow and steered her to- ward the table. "But there are always plenty of them about, and now I have two more husbands to offer them." Na Pieret tapped my forehead with her swollen knuckles. "Only see to it you don't marry off my new sons to any of the silly  tozas ." I shoved a half-drunk Andrio aside to make room on the bench for Widow Pieret to sit. "That,  ma maire ," I said, "is a promise I doubt I can keep." Excerpted from The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
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Trade Reviews

  New York Times Review

CERTAIN GROWN-UPS REVEL in dumb generalizations about young adult literature. They say that Y.A. lacks moral ambiguity; that it is too dark; that it doesn't depict empowered female sexuality; that it is populated by fields of sparkly vampires; that it sprang fully formed from the head of John Green. Nice try, reductive grown-ups. The only overarching thing that characterizes young adult literature is the age of the protagonist. Y.A. is sometimes fluffy, sometimes fanged, sometimes hot, sometimes cool. Its writers' voices are punk rock and hip-hop and symphonic and fizzy-poppy. As these summer fiction possibilities prove, Y.A. books can be as different from one another as Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin is from Blind Lemon Jefferson. Let's start our "there are more things in heaven and earth" exploration with EVERY EXQUISITE THING (Little, Brown, $17.99), by Matthew Quick, the author of "The Silver Linings Playbook." It's about Nanette, a high school junior whose suburban, conformist life is blown wide open after she reads an out-of-print coming-of-age novel called "The Bubblegum Reaper." Soon she's hanging out with its reclusive author, Nigel Booker, and a teenage boy named Alex who's a fellow Booker acolyte. Nanette starts reading Bukowski and Philip Larkin, rebelling against her shallow parents, tossing away her soccer stardom because she has come to hate the game, and falling in love. But before long her life starts sliding out of control. "Every Exquisite Thing" is guilty of the "not like other girls" trope - the notion that while most girls are predictable and icky, this one has complex dreams and emotions that make her special. And since the other girls in "Every Exquisite Thing" are vapid, undifferentiated, peach-schnapps-swilling sexpots, no wonder Nanette is a singular creation who'd rather hang with dudes who tell her to read dude authors. The plots of "Every Exquisite Thing" and "The Bubblegum Reaper" parallel each other; both are about ambiguity and not being able to look to adults or convention for guidance on how to live a meaningful life. But Quick sometimes seems to mock Nanette's pain and pretensions in away that feels meanspirited. "I like listening to music and reading poetry and novels," she tells her friend Shannon. "I like seeing art house films. I like having philosophical discussions as I look up at a hunter's moon." Shannon replies, "Maybe you're just a snob, Nanette." Maybe she is. But the universe Quick has built for her doesn't offer an alternative. By the time I finished reading "Every Exquisite Thing" (the title is from "The Picture of Dorian Gray": "Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic"), my shoulders were somewhere around my upper ears. AS I read SCARLETT EPSTEIN HATES IT HERE (Razorbill/Penguin, $17.99), by Anna Breslaw, they inched back down. Scarlett has female friends who are smart and kind. She's a writer of fan fiction, so she doesn't treat canonical texts as gospel. Her stories are rooted in a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"-esque TV show about a boarding school in which half the students are werewolves. But after the show ends, she begins a new narrative based on the lives of her friends, her nemeses and her crush object, Gideon. Unlike Nanette, Scarlett is self-aware and mouthy, snarkily alert to the class divide in her suburban New Jersey town, where her family can't afford all the extras her classmates take for granted and she is used to being made fun of "for wearing thrift-store clothes (they weren't cool yet), bringing weird wholesale Sam's Club chocolate milk to lunch unlike everybody else's normal Nesquiks, and the million other tiny indicators kids can sniff out poorness with." She adores her best friend, Ave, but wishes Ave were more assertive. "If Ave had invented fire, she'd introduce it to the Cro-Magnons by whispering, 'Um, hey, I made this thing, it's kinda cool, it might be sorta helpful for our continued evolution, if that makes any sense.'" Scarlett is annoyed at herself for her crush on Gideon, who acts like a jerk with the popular boys instead of living his best life as the stand-up-comedy nerd he is in his soul. When Scarlett sees him in school the day after he and his posse have trashed her feminist, pot-smoking neighbor's garden, she has no idea what to say. "I freeze helplessly, torn between wanting to yell at him about his cisgender white male sense of entitlement and whisper to him that he smells like pine needles and dreams." Relatable. Alas, many of Scarlett's references don't sound very kidlike ("Glengarry Glen Ross"? "The Wire"? Reclaimed-wood tables? Flipping through Redbook in a waiting room?), and the plot is, to be charitable, shaky. A character dies solely to advance the protagonist's emotional arc. Feh. But Scarlett's goofy, cranky voice is fun nonetheless. Her story is writ small. THE SERPENT KING (Crown, $17.99), a debut by Jeff Zentner, on the other hand, is an ambitious, sui generis genre mash-up. The three main characters, who live in rural Tennessee, seem to come from three kinds of literature: Dill, with his snake-handling fundamentalist preacher father - currently incarcerated for possession of child pornography - and fearful, quietly manipulative mother, is straight out of Southern Gothic. His parents don't want him to go to college (his mother wants him to drop out of high school and make money), and with his soulful guitar playing, self-doubt and yearning, you ache for him to find his way into a different story. Lydia is a smart-mouthed fashionista and power blogger whose spiky voice is so well executed she could text with Scarlett. Travis is a lumbering, black-clad, dragon-pendant-wearing, staff-carrying guy who lives through his passion for a George R. R. Martin-style fantasy world. Zentner's great achievement - particularly impressive for a first novel - is to make us believe three such different people could be friends. He also manages to blend a dank, oppressive, Flannery O'Connor-esque sense of place with humor and optimism. I particularly looked forward to Travis's passionate narration as he pretends he's in the "Game of Thrones"-like world. (Having dinner at Lydia's well-stocked house, he composes in his head: "The harvest was good that year in Raynar Northbrook's lands, and they feasted often on the heavy oaken table that sat in his great hall. He called for bread and meat until he was sated.") The characters narrate their own chapters, which makes for some wild shifts in tone. The unredeemable monstrousness of Dill's and Travis's fathers may prove hard for some readers to take, and a senseless, drug-fueled tragedy may seem over the top. But I adored all three of these characters and the way they talked to and loved one another. Mariko Tamaki's SAVING MONTGOMERY SOLE (Roaring Brook, $17.99) is also about three friends, but it's far less wrenching to read. Montgomery and her friends Naoki and Thomas constitute the Jefferson High Mystery Club in Aunty, Calif. They hang out after school and discuss strange phenomena. One day Monty spots an online ad for the "Eye of Know," a mystical crystal amulet from an actual meteorite, on sale for only $5.99. She buys it, and unnerving things start to happen. The book's vivid California-ness - avocado trees and warm air and concrete - along with Thomas's out-and-proud gayness ("Remember we are orchids in a forest of carnations," he texts) and Naoki's sparkly air-sprite energy reminded me a bit of Francesca Lia Block's classic '90s Y.A. novel "Weetzie Bat." But Monty's voice is far more sardonic than Weetzie's. "The sky was that pulsing electric blue that it is here," she writes. "It's this unforgettable, I'm-so-blue-it-hurts blue that I've always found kind of ridiculous. It's blue like nail polish for club kids. Anyway, today I wasn't really minding it." "Saving Montgomery Sole" has the assured tone and meandering plot of Tamaki's strange and lovely graphic novel "This One Summer" (illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, who is her cousin and the illustrator of the Book Review's By the Book feature). Both books deal with inchoate rage and anxiety. Monty loves her two moms and her friends, but the presence of a homophobic right-wing preacher in town has her on edge, and being surrounded by teenagers who aren't as enlightened as her immediate circle makes her furious. "I could feel my brain filling up with angry bits, piling up like Ho Ho wrappers on a binge day," she says. "Like homework on a Sunday." There's no big revelation, no epiphany. The mystery of the amulet is never solved. Readers who find this maddening are not the right readers for this book. Readers who do not like human effluvia are not the right readers for THE HATERS (Amulet Books, $18.95). I must impress upon you how profane, vile and hilarious this book is. I laughed so hard I scared my cat off the couch multiple times, but if you have ever used the phrase "the coarsening of discourse," it is not for you. It's by Jesse Andrews, the author of "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl," which also had gross moments, but not this gross, and there was a dying girl, so the gross seemed in service of something noble. Not this time. "The Haters" is about Wes, Corey and Ash, who meet at jazz camp, start a band and flee on a long and filthy road trip. The depiction of jazz camp - with its hypercompetitive, fedora-wearing, skinny white guys trying to talk like Miles Davis - slays. One guy starts chatting up Wes, who was adopted from Venezuela, and when Wes asks him to stop talking like that, he says: "'Well, this is how I talk with the brothers back in South Philly. And they've never had a problem with it. But if you have a problem, man. ...' He nodded slowly. 'Then I got to thank you,' he said. 'For speaking your truth.'" It's clear why our heroes have to escape jazz camp. The three play in dives and eat junk food (the beef-flavored chips "had a taste that I would categorize as like a locker room, but for dogs") and sleep wherever they can ("Motel 6 is where you go if you've been evicted from your home and you need a place to do the meth that you just stole from the corpse of a prostitute," Ash pronounces) and meet lovely and scary people and have romantic interludes. What "The Haters" excels at is describing music. Here's how Andrews captures terrible improv jazz: "The trombones were botching goofball quotations like 'Flight of the Bumble-bee' and then signaling surrender with sheepish atonal elephant noises. And each of the saxophone solos was basically the equivalent of the small talk that you are forced to make with the friend of your mom who cuts your hair." And, helpfully for many readers, "if you don't know music, just know that if the band is playing in F but you're playing in E, it's going to sound simultaneously very whimsical and very horrible. It's basically a horror movie starring the Muppets." What "The Haters" does not excel at is girls. Ash is, shall we say, a poorly developed character. And there's a scene in which she is uncomfortably in the room while a comic-relief white hippie girl has several rounds of sex with a semiconscious Wes. (In the morning, when Wes is sober, Ash tells him, "You were just lying there murmuring, Please, no, and she was ordering you around in broken Spanish.") Not funny. But a lot in the book is. From the gross to the celestial: THE SQUARE ROOT OF SUMMER (Roaring Brook, $17.99), a debut by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, is a story of love and grief grounded in physics. Gottie Oppenheimer is a math and science genius in a small seaside town in Norfolk, England. Her mom died when she was born; now she's mourning her grandfather Grey's unexpected death. Her best friend, Thomas, who moved to Canada five years earlier, is coming back. She has strange gaps in her memory. And she starts experiencing disruptions in time and space. This is a novel for readers unafraid of science. There's talk of fractals, wormholes, black holes, the Gödel metric ("a solution to the E=MC^sup 2^ equation that 'proves' the past still exists"), Schrödinger's cat, string theory. Physics provides metaphors for loss, confusion and love. But there's humor, too, including terrible band names (Gottie's brother is a glam rocker) worthy of "The Haters": Fingerband, Synthmoan de Beauvoir, Jurassic Parkas. There are funny German words and delicious baked goods and crazy outfits. And Thomas is wonderful. When he tells Gottie how sorry he is about Grey's death, "it's the first time someone's hugged me since Oma and Opa, at Christmas. I stand there, made out of elbows. ... But after a moment, I wrap myself around him. It's a hug like warm cinnamon cake, and I sink into it." Later: "His kiss interrupts me, sudden-short-sweet. Unquestionable. It feels like reading a favorite book, and falling for the ending even though you already know what happens." The book is too long and has entirely too many physics analogies. But the delectable romance and the moment when past, present and future all come together and semi-solve the mysteries of Gottie's time travel make the journey worthwhile. Nothing about Julie Berry's THE PASSION OF DOLSSA (Viking, $18.99) should work. It is a 500-page book set in the 13th century, sprinkled with a medieval language called Old Provençal, about a young noblewoman who escapes a Dominican order that wants to burn her as a heretic. Yet I stayed up all night reading it and had tears in my eyes almost the entire time. Dolssa is an 18-year-old girl who has a Song of Songs-like relationship with God. "He caught me up on wings of light, and showed me the realms of his creation, the glittering gemstones paving his heaven," she says. "He left my body weak and spent, my spirit gorged with honey." The friars do not look kindly on this kind of talk. But Dolssa (miraculously?) escapes being thrown into the flames and winds up in the seaside village of Bajas. There she's cared for by three sisters who run a tavern and supplement their income by whoring (the oldest), fortunetelling (the youngest) and matchmaking (the middle sister). It turns out Dolssa can perform healing miracles. But an obsessed friar is tracking her through the countryside with near-sexual fixation, interviewing prostitutes as well as Jews and small-town clergymen about whether they've seen her. The language is gorgeous and evocative without seeming to try too hard. You practically smell the sea and taste the foamy ale. The characters have clearly differentiated voices; Dolssa sounds fancy and stilted for much of the book, while the sisters sound like the funny, earthy wenches they are. I cried partly because of the matter-of-fact kindness of the sisters - they care for others because it's the moral thing to do - and partly because of the parallels to our country now. There's a difference between being Christ-like and using Christ's name to oppress others, to silence women and persecute immigrants. I'm not sure how big an audience there is for a book like this. But I found it magnificent. Finally, we turn to another debut, THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN (St. Martin's Griffin, $18.99), by Roshani Chokshi, a fantasy drenched in Indian folklore. It's essentially a fairy tale, with a journey, an evil villain, minimal characterization and a happy ending. But lush, ornate ribbons of language are festooned over the bones of story, turning it into something rich and dizzying. Maya, a princess in Bharata, is rescued by a mysterious man named Amar. He smells of "mint and smoke, cardamom and wood." He can't tell Maya who he is until the new moon, but he's obviously trustworthy, because he says things like "I want to lie beside you and know the weight of your dreams." He tells her, "Come with me and you shall be an empress with the moon for your throne and constellations to wear in your hair." My teenage-demigoth self would have swooned. Amar and Maya ride through magical settings to his empty castle. Mirrors reflect "countries spiked with spires, turrets bursting with small ivy flowers, cities awash in color, and a thousand skies painted in vespertine violets of anxious nightfall waiting for stars, dawns just barely blooming pink and orange with new light, afternoons presiding over sleeping towns. ... It was all here." You either have to let yourself be swept along or wind up doing an Amazon search to find out how many times the word "glittering" appears. (Fifteen.) I was troubled by grammatical errors: "Girl that" rather than "girl who; "with myself" rather than "with me"; "He sunk beneath the water." But who cares, if you're a reader who imagines being bathed in milk, adorned with amethysts and kissed by a gorgeous stranger who says: "I know your soul. Everything else is an ornament." MARJORIE INGALL is a columnist at Tablet and the author of the forthcoming nonfiction book "Mamaleh Knows Best."

  Publishers Weekly Review

When Botille Flasucra finds Dolssa de Stigata lying on a riverside close to death, she takes the stranger to her family's tavern. Botille, a young matchmaker, and her sisters nurse Dolssa back to health in secret-a Dominican friar obsessively hunts Dolssa, whom he condemned as a heretic to be burned at the stake. The year is 1241 in Provensa (now Provence), where the aftereffects of the Albigensian Crusade have led to an inquisition meant to rid the Christian world of heretics. Dolssa, however, feels called to heal the sick in the name of her beloved Jhesus, and her miracles eventually bring danger to the small town of Bajas. Berry (All the Truth That's in Me) again delivers an utterly original and instantly engrossing story. Drawing from meticulous historical research (highlighted in extensive back matter), she weaves a tense, moving portrait of these two teenage girls and their struggle to survive against insurmountable odds. Love, faith, violence, and power intertwine in Berry's lyrical writing, but Botille's and Dolssa's indomitable spirits are the heart of her story. Ages 12-up. Agent: Alyssa Eisner Henkin, Trident Media Group. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

  School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up-Two young women-Botille, a tavern wench, and Dolssa, a noblewoman possibly in communion with God-form a deep bond in a world that seeks to destroy them. Berry has reimagined 13th-century France with vigor, from the small intricacies of daily village life to the brutal ruthlessness of the Inquisition. Readers looking for a work steeped in female friendship, mysticism, and blood, with extensive back matter to boot, will be well rewarded. © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Summary
I must write this account, and when I have finished, I will burn it. <br>  <br> Buried deep within the archives of a convent in medieval France is an untold story of love, loss, and wonder and the two girls at the heart of it all. <br>  <br> Dolssa is an upper-crust city girl with a secret lover and an uncanny gift. Branded a heretic, she's on the run from the friar who condemned her mother to death by fire, and wants Dolssa executed, too.<br>  <br> Botille is a matchmaker and a tavern-keeper, struggling to keep herself and her sisters on the right side of the law in their seaside town of Bajas.<br>  <br> When their lives collide by a dark riverside, Botille rescues a dying Dolssa and conceals her in the tavern, where an unlikely friendship blooms. Aided by her sisters and Symo, her surly but loyal neighbor, Botille nurses Dolssa back to health and hides her from her pursuers.  But all of Botille's tricks, tales, and cleverness can't protect them forever, and when the full wrath of the Church bears down upon Bajas, Dolssa's passion and Botille's good intentions could destroy the entire village. <br>  <br> From the author of the award-winning  All the Truth That's in Me  comes a spellbinding thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final page and make you wonder if miracles really are possible.
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