June 25, 2005
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Song for Eloise

by Leigh Sauerwein

A quiet, graceful story of the minor nobility of 12th century France, the age of troubadours and crusades. Sauerwein deploys a very contemporary and sophisticated arsenal of writerly techniques -- present tense, timeshift, fragmented narrative, multiple points of view -- in the service of a delicate YA mission that lies somewhere between realism and historical romance.

It's very thoroughly considered and researched, though there's almost no description and absolutely no sign of the familiar "day in the life" trope. No characters spend time, for example, discovering that the 12th century was less clean than the 21st or that food and medical care weren't of a high standard. Indeed, since the word "troubadour" hasn't quite appeared in Eloise's time, Sauerwein lets her listen to the song of the trobar -- the French root for troubadour, so be sure, but perhaps it might be italicized in the English-language edition to warn us that it's a foreign word. (I know more about the 12th century than the average YA reader, and on first reading I thought a trobar might be a French bird, perhaps something like a trogon)

It's a brave book, a book in which young lovers remove their clothes (off-stage) and in which the all the protagonists know that the world does not revolve around them and that, if they are to have clothes or if there is to be magic, they must make their own.

The current assumption is that YA books should be plotful -- an assumption that has lately attracted a boatload of literary writers to visit the YA world. A Song for Eloise is not plotful; whether this will bother her readers or merely alarm the librarians may prove instructive.