Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross is a 2014 Morris Award finalist. The Morris Award honors books written by debut authors in young adult literature. The Morris Award nominees and winners are some of the first books I add to my summer reading list, because I like the thrill of reading work from authors new to the YA scene. Elizabeth Ross did not disappoint.
Set in the late 1880s, Belle Epoque follows 16-year-old Maude from a small town in northwest Brittany to Paris, France. After a string of unsuccessful jobs and failed attempts to support herself, Maude begrudgingly becomes a repoussoir (foil) to an aristocrat named Isabelle Dubern. Isabelle is in her debutante season with the goal of becoming engaged, and Maude is hired by the Duberns as an ugly friend to make Isabelle look more beautiful.
Maude and Isabelle become friends, and we are swept away into a world of privilege and connections, which is contrasted with Maude's own world of Paris explorations and her group of bohemian friends. These two worlds cannot exist separately forever, and they inevitably collide. As the two worlds become more tangled, you might find yourself reading this book way past your bedtime.
Perhaps the most refreshing part of this book is Belle Epoque itself. Belle epoque translates to "beautiful age" and is significant because of the story's setting and its theme. In the late 1880s, France was still recovering from drastic changes in terms of social classes. France would unveil its new social order on the stage of the World's Fair, with the newly constructed Eiffel Tower as its centerpiece. In the same way, Maude learns that her own belle epoque is now, regardless of personal appearance or social class.
Belle Epoque is the most innovative book I've read this summer. I am looking forward to reading more books by Elizabeth Ross.