Title: Jepp, Who Defied the Stars
Author: Katherine Marsh
Pub info: Hyperion, 2012; 384 pp
Genre: YA historical
I'm a sucker for a good historical novel, and this one's premise was so unusual that I just had to pick it up. You should too.
Is it written in the stars from the moment we are born?
Or is it a bendable thing that we can shape with our own hands?
Jepp of Astraveld needs to know.
He left his countryside home on the empty promise of a stranger, only to become a captive in a luxurious prison: Coudenberg Palace, the royal court of the Spanish Infanta. Nobody warned Jepp that as a court dwarf, daily injustices would become his seemingly unshakable fate. If the humiliations were his alone, perhaps he could endure them; but it breaks Jepp’s heart to see his friend Lia suffer.
After Jepp and Lia attempt a daring escape from the palace, Jepp is imprisoned again, alone in a cage. Now, spirited across Europe in a kidnapper’s carriage, Jepp fears where his unfortunate stars may lead him. But he can't even begin to imagine the brilliant and eccentric new master—a man devoted to uncovering the secrets of the stars—who awaits him. Or the girl who will help him mend his heart and unearth the long-buried secrets of his past.
Masterfully written, grippingly paced, and inspired by real historical characters, Jepp, Who Defied the Stars is the tale of an extraordinary hero and his inspiring quest to become the master of his own destiny.
New York Times Notable Children’s Books of 2012
The Wall Street Journal Best Children’s Books of 2012
Status: finished 4/20/14
Katherine Marsh tells this unusual story of a court dwarf in lush detail, bringing the end of the sixteenth century alive without overwhelming the reader with a history lesson. Jepp is an endearing character to follow, and while he suffers cruel treatment, his humiliations are tempered with judicious editing. At first I was reluctant to call this a YA novel, though that's how it was marketed, because it could be a story for anyone, despite the main character's age (16). But I can imagine another sort of author dwelling on the unsavory details of Jepp's life instead of the hope. The story is compelling, the pace quick, and the entire narrative believable, despite how removed it is from our current experience. If some elements of Jepp's story seem a little contrived, a bit deus ex machina, it's a small complaint for an otherwise wonderful novel.
Katherine Marsh was born in the suburbs of New York City and began her career as a high school teacher and journalist. Today she lives in the Washington, DC, area with her husband and two cats. She is also the author of The Night Tourist (Hyperion, 2008), which won the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery, and its sequel, The Twilight Prisoner (Hyperion, 2009).
Check out Katherine's website here. Follow Katherine on Twitter here, and on her Facebook page here. You can listen to an interesting interview with Katherine about Jepp and its origins here (NPR's All Things Considered).
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