The Last Song

  • Review
By – February 26, 2013
Grow­ing up in Tole­do, Spain in the ear­ly 1490s, Isabel, a four­teen-year-old devout Catholic, has led a priv­i­leged life; she has her own per­son­al Moor­ish slave that takes care of her every whim and she lives in a beau­ti­ful home. When her father, physi­cian to King Fer­di­nand and Queen Isabel­la, urges her to mar­ry Luis, the arro­gant son of a respect­ed old Catholic fam­i­ly, Isabel strong­ly protests until the dan­ger­ous secret of her past is revealed —her fam­i­ly mem­bers are Con­ver­sos, Jews who have been forced to con­vert to Chris­tian­i­ty or die. Don Enrique and his wife fear for the safe­ty of their daugh­ter dur­ing the time of the Inqui­si­tion and, by encour­ag­ing a quick engage­ment, hope to pro­tect her as well as dis­pel any sus­pi­cion that they are not devout Chris­tians. In prepar­ing for the wed­ding, Isabel is intro­duced to Yon­ah, the son of a Jew­ish sil­ver­smith, who has been hired to make an ornate cen­ter­piece for the tra­di­tion­al betrothal meal. With no one to turn to, she con­fides in him about her Jew­ish iden­ti­ty and a spe­cial bond grows. Their easy friend­ship turns into a romance and Yon­ah urges Isabel to embrace her her­itage by tak­ing her to a secret Seder in the ghet­to where she learns about some of the Jew­ish rit­u­als. As the polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion esca­lates with an offi­cial edict for the expul­sionof all the Jews in Tole­do and the arrest of Isabel’s father who may be burned at the stake, Isabel real­izes that she must take things into her own hands. With the help of Yon­ah, Isabel devis­es a risky plan that she hopes will free her father and lead the whole fam­i­ly to a new life. Told in first per­son through the eyes of Isabel, mas­ter sto­ry­teller Eva Wise­man skill­ful­ly weaves a tense and allur­ing nov­el that real­is­ti­cal­ly depicts a tur­bu­lent time in Jew­ish his­to­ry. Sim­i­lar to Kathryn Lasky’s Blood Secret, this title would be a pos­i­tive choice for upper ele­men­tary read­ers of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 11 and up.
Debra Gold has been a children’s librar­i­an for over 20 years in the Cuya­hoga Coun­ty Pub­lic Library Sys­tem. An active mem­ber of the ALA, she has served on many com­mit­tees includ­ing the Calde­cott, New­bery and Batchelder committees.

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