Under a Dancing Star

Random. Jun. 2021. 320p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593309575.
Gr 9 Up–Beatrice just can’t win. She is outspoken and possesses a passion for natural history (which sometimes requires digging around in muddy ponds for the sake of science); her parents despair of ever marrying her off to an eligible (and wealthy) young man. After a disastrous dinner party, during which Bea shares some enlightening facts about insect reproduction, she jumps at an offer to leave England and visit her relatives in the Italian countryside. Little do her parents know that she is about to join a bohemian artist retreat where she meets the infuriating but extremely dashing Benedick. This story is inspired by Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing but, while quotes from the original appear as chapter epigraphs, the connection to the Bard’s Beatrice and Benedick is tenuous outside of the character names and the initial combative attitudes between them. The story is set primarily in 1930s Italy and, while the descriptions of the countryside are evocative and appealing, the attempt to place the story within the political context of the time is less successful. References to Mussolini and fascism are thrown in occasionally, but aren’t explored enough to have any real impact on the characters or their choices. The story leans toward predictability, with familiar character tropes in Bea (she’s not like other women because she’s practical, intelligent, and speaks her mind) and Ben (he changes his womanizing ways and gets serious when he meets the right woman). That said, readers will still root for their love story and for Bea’s self-actualization and growing confidence.
VERDICT Romance readers will enjoy this sweet if superficial, summertime love story.

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