Juliette Ascending by Rosemary Poole Carter is my second keeper of the year. It’s a YA novel that I spied on the Barnes and Noble bookshelves the other day. I thought the cover was quite arresting so I picked it up and read the synopsis. The author is local (Dallas) and so is the publisher. It’s a slim book of 185 pages and a quick read. The story takes place in New Orleans, several days after the Civil War has ended. The narrator of this story is Juliette Carondel, a young lady who comes from a penniless, once well to do family, who learns what it costs to follow your heart. To quote Shakespeare: “This above all; to thine own self be true.”
When the story opens, there is much anticipation over a young suitor who has asked for Juliette’s hand in marriage. Her worst fears are realized when she learns that her father has arranged for her to marry a wealthy landowner. A gentleman several years older and a stranger. Juliette, being the only surviving daughter, knows what this marriage means to her family, so she must do her part. Her parents are portrayed as being cold and emotionally distant which is typical of most aristocratic families where social class is more important than one’s character. Haughty, scheming and vengeful are just a few words that best describe this wonderful family.
Juliette has pretty much led a sheltered life. She is educated and smart. She spends most of her time being still and observant of everything around her and tries her best not to be noticed. Her parents pretty much treat her like property, selling her off to the highest bidder without thinking twice. Her mother is uncaring and refuses to hear any of Juliette’s reservations about the match. Thank goodness much of Juliette’s nurturing has come from her old nurse, Matilde, a free woman of color, who raised her since birth and continues to look after her. Juliette often confides in Matilde and sees her as her only ally in revealing the secrets of her heart. Then there’s Juliette’s cousin who stays with them, Thibeaux, who is more or less a two dimensional character who represents the worst side of the family tree. His staggering debts are what dumps Juliette on the marriage mart in the first place. Then there is Juliette’s father, who is a cold-hearted businessman and being the head of the household, he is used to giving orders and being obeyed without question. Ultimately, Juliette, with no one to turn to, keeps her thoughts and fears to herself and accepts her fate and future.
However, Juliette’s first sign of hope, of breaking free comes from a young man wearing the uniform of the enemy. His name is Roland Montgomery, a soldier with the Union army with a lineage that goes nowhere and impresses no one. The two would be lovers face many obstacles since Roland is so far below Juliette’s station. Her parent’s prejudices would never allow them to accept Roland and so the two scheme together in secret and a plan is conceived. However, out of a nowhere tragedy strikes and then there’s the aftermath that leads to the decision that Juliette must make and that is: to break free now or remain a prisoner forever.
One of the main themes of this wonderful novel is about having the freedom of choice. Making the choice to be happy. All Juliette wants is the choice to love someone who will love her in return. This is a great novel for teens in learning how women were treated in the 19th century. Parents need not worry about the sexual content as it is kisses only. The story is set in post war New Orleans and the author does an excellent job of recreating the city with the attitudes and customs indicative of the period. Her prose has a natural flow to it that I found very engaging and lyrical. I love stories that are set in New Orleans which is one of the reasons why I was drawn to this story in the first place.
The novel has a whimsical feel to it with an ending that kept me on the edge of my seat. The novel does have it’s share of suspenseful moments added with a couple of teary-eyed scenes. The title is apt and symbolic of Juliette’s transition from a sheltered young girl to courageous young woman who has to make some tough choices that may have irrevocable consequences. Every once in while you run across a story that hits on all the right buttons and this one was it for me. I’m sure there are flaws as no book is perfect but this retelling of Romeo and Juliette gets high marks from me for characterization, prose and pacing. The story is told in first person which I thought was appropriate since this about one woman’s journey. All in all, this is a simple story with an admirable heroine. My grade, A.
This novel is available in trade paperback at your favorite bookstore.
[tags]YA Novel, Shakespeare, New Orleans, Rosemary Poole-Carter[/tags]