The Red Necklace - Sally Gardner
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
# of pages: 416 (pb)
Amelia's Age-Level Suggestion: 13+
I usually am a very big fan of historical fiction---if it is done right. Ann Rinaldi is probably my top historical fiction writer--she happens to write stuff geared more towards kids, and to me that is an awesome balance. Sally Gardner is perhaps just a hair under her, but throughout the entire story (and it is quite a lengthy story) I was completely captivated.
The setting is 1789-1792 France, with a brief switch over to England. I saw similarites to The Scarlet Pimpernel and A Tale of Two Cities both, not only in the setting and plot but also in the story's more intricate details. Sally Gardner is a perfect author for young readers because she has such a natural gift for using literary elements-- The Red Necklace is full of clever metaphors, allusions and personifications as 18th century France is brought to life.
The two main villains of the novel--a foppish (that's my word of the day, I guess) Marquis and the sinister Count Kalliovski --are entertainingly one-sided. JUST BECAUSE A CHARACTER IS ONE-SIDED DOES NOT MEAN HE IS FLAT! Sometimes the best villains - especially in childrens/YA literature - are the ones who are just downright bad. That being said, the narration didnt really show Kalliovski's POV until the very last of the story, and I would have liked more of a window into his behavior throughout the story. I'm totally okay with evil characters doing evil things, but I'd like to know why they do evil things or what their purpose is for doing evil things. I'm still a bit confused, in fact, about Kalliovski's reasons for doing anything.
While I love the story's two protagonists - a mysterious gypsy boy named Yann and a longsuffering aristocrat-with-a-heart-of-gold Sido, I feel a bit disappointed by their relationship. I was under the impression that the book would spend a great deal of time - or at least SOME time - on their romantic development, but actually, they only have a few conversations together. Yes, they're in love and all that, but why? Sally Gardner is such a talented author and she really has a gift for words, so I wish she could have given their relationship a bit more detail.
- My one main criticism of the book comes out of this: Her beginning and end segments are clearly the strength of the book, and the middle drags. That being said, the last half of the book, I'd say (beginning when the book flashes forward to 1792) at times feels really rushed, and her once descriptive narrative voice gets choppy and sloppy. For example, when Yann first sees Sido after a 3-year-absence, they just start talking like "oh, whatever. there you are." And then ending...? It should have been better explained. I knew it was coming, but still... an author really needs to expand on the great "WHY's" of their books. And one more nitpicky thing: In historical fiction (particularly kids/YA) you cant just throw out characters without taking the time to explain who they are. The "Big Three" of the Revolution--Robespierre, Marat, and Danton-- are all mentioned, but in a very random "name-dropping" sort of way. I will admit that my little issue could stem totally from the fact that I am a college-age history major. MS and HS kids will love this, and I certainly see this as a book I could read aloud to my future students.
V: It's a book about the French Revolution, so yeah, it's pretty violent...but not really in a "disturbing" way - I would definitely recommend this to middle school and up
S: Some pretty blunt innuendos, which surprised/annoyed me. Completely unnecessary, but
Gardner probably thought she was being witty or something.
L: pretty 'PG'-level
Final Rating: 4/5. If you're into historical fiction, this should definitely be on your to-read list :)