Monday, February 27, 2012

Book Review: Sisters of Glass, by Stephanie Hemphill

Hemphill, Stephanie. Sisters of Glass. 272 p. Knopf Books for Young Readers. 2012. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN 9780375861093. 

The latest book from Printz Honor winning author, Stephanie Hemphill, provides a lovely look at 15th century Venice and centers around a fascinating topic I knew very little about before reading: glassblowing.  

Sisters of Glass, a novel in verse, tells the story of Maria, the second daughter of the Barovier family, famed for their glassmaking. Her late father proclaimed that she should marry a nobleman, and thus it must be so-- even though that role would traditionally go to the elder sister, Giovanna. The sisters clash as the family attempts to make a suitable match for Maria. Meanwhile, they've hired a handsome artisan to help maintain the family business, and Maria can't help but take notice of him, although he's far from being part of the nobility.

The setting of the Venetian island of Murano during the 15th century is vibrant, and the characters are believable. The swoon-worthy forbidden romance brings an alluring element to the plot, and many readers will relate to the turbulent yet strongly affectionate relationship between the two sisters.

I included this book in my list of Downton Abbey readalikes because the plot has a lot to do with the social customs of its era, particularly pertaining to the roles of women. It's curious how much responsibility rests on the weight of a young woman's shoulders- save the family's fortune by making a good marriage!- but they have so little agency. Readers will root for Maria and Giovanna-- they are definitely girls with goals.

Personally, one of my favorite aspects of this book was the chance to learn about the art and history of glassblowing on the island of Murano. (My BA is in Art History! I love this stuff!) The Barovier family of this book is a real part of Murano history-- the oldest glassmaking family in the world, with a tradition of glass production that can be traced back to the 13th century, according to

Coupe de Angelo Barovier, Museo del vetro, Murano.

Murano glass is still a sought-after art form today. Hemphill's descriptions of the island and its famous glass made me eager to visit Murano someday. I love that this rich tradition is still alive after so many centuries.

Photo of Murano by flickr user Harsh Light

I only wish this book had been longer. I could have happily read more! And the ending is perhaps a bit too convenient. But it will please those who just love a happy ending-- as well as students who are required to read a certain number of pages for a historical fiction assignment, as the verse format manages to provide a decent page count while the amount of text is light and very readable.

Sisters of Glass is a quick, engaging read, and a good introduction to the verse novel format. Look for it in bookstores everywhere on March 27. ARC for review provided by Random House Children's Books via NetGalley.


  1. This sounds delightful. I've actually been to Murano and seen glass being blown. It is so neat. The island itself is absolutely gorgeous. It was the highlight of my trip's stop in Venice.

  2. Wonderful post! Very insightful. Looks like an interesting book and a beautiful place.

    New to your blog!

    Stepping Out of the Page

  3. Completely agree with you about the ending. While it was certainly "feel good", it was definitely a little too perfect.

  4. Ooh, thanks for the review of this one! I snagged an ARC at ALA and I will definitely bump it up in the pile!

  5. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting, everyone!

    Michelle, I'm so jealous that you've seen glassblowing in Murano! How cool!! You should definitely check out this book, then. You'll be able to visualize it.

    Stephanie, the book was lovely, and I'm definitely adding Murano to my list of "must-visit" places. It looks so charming!

    Beth, yep, that ending was just so very... neat. Still, I'd rather have an overly-neat ending than an unsatisfying one!

    Abby, it'll be a really quick read, so I do recommend taking a look. Hope you enjoy!

  6. A fabulous, rich story suitable for those quiet moments before bed or for our times of despair when a quick boost is necessary, Sisters of Glass holds subtle wonders in its thin pages, ones that should be visited, explored, and marveled at, much like the extraordinary glass pieces and their kind makers we encounter.

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