The Apprentice's Masterpiece: A Story of Medieval Spain

Overview

It's the Spanish Inquisition, and agents of oppression grow deadly for two teens.

"But there are times when peace just becomes a broken mouthful.
A word that no tongue in the world
Can pronounce."

- From The Apprentice's Masterpiece

"... like a young person's Kite ...

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Overview

It's the Spanish Inquisition, and agents of oppression grow deadly for two teens.

"But there are times when peace just becomes a broken mouthful.
A word that no tongue in the world
Can pronounce."

- From The Apprentice's Masterpiece

"... like a young person's Kite Runner, a tale ... that both educates and enlightens in a time when we could all use a little more understanding of one another."— Calgary Herald

"The brief narrative poems are small gems of insight and emotion... and resonate with contemporary connections."— VOYA

"This riveting story is peopled by flesh-and-blood characters and replete with ... historical detail."— School Library Journal

ALA/YALSA 2009 Best Books for Young Adults nominee

White Ravens 2008, International Youth Library, Munich

Fifteenth-century Spain is a richly multicultural society in which Jews, Muslims and Christians coexist. But under the zealous Christian Queen Isabella, the country abruptly becomes one of the most murderously intolerant places on Earth.

It is in this atmosphere that the Benvenistes, a family of scribes, attempt to eke out a living. The family has a secret-they are conversos: Jews who converted to Christianity. Now, with neighbors and friends turned into spies, fear hangs in the air.

One day a young man is delivered to their door. His name is Amir, and he wears the robe and red patch of a Muslim. Fifteen-year-old Ramon Benveniste broods over Amir's easy acceptance into the family.

Startling and dramatic events overtake the household, and the family is torn apart. One boy becomes enslaved; the other takes up service for the Inquisitors. Finally, their paths cross again in a stunningly haunting scene.

Melanie Little has crafted a brilliant and elegantly written story in verse about one of the most politically complex and troubling times in human history-the Spanish Inquisition. Drawing on extensive research, Little creates memorable characters, captures the turbulent events of the period, and emblazons horrific images on readers' minds. It is the work of a master.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
The subject and history are enthralling ... What will hold readers are the facts of daily life.
— Hazel Rochman
Canadian Materials
(starred review) The Apprentice's Masterpiece, makes for a powerful reading experience... extremely well written and intriguing... Highly Recommended.
— Gregory Bryan
Canadian Children's Book Centre
Finalist, Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction
Finalist, Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction
Booklist - Hazel Rochman
The subject and history are enthralling ... What will hold readers are the facts of daily life: what it was like to be young when there were spies everywhere, looking for "secret Jews, and heretics / Such monsters must burn."
Canadian Materials - Gregory Bryan
(starred review) Set in Medieval Spain at the time of the Spanish Inquisition, Melanie Little's novel in free verse, The Apprentice's Masterpiece, makes for a powerful reading experience... Little tells her tale with concise, evocative words that lend a certain beauty to the story—yet it is not a tale of beauty. Rather, the mistrust, corruption and brutality of the Inquisition are laid bare... The economic, yet evocative, nature of Little's writing helps the reader to gain some understanding of such things as the horror of people being burnt at the stake, the hopeless depression of life as a slave on a galley ship, and the brutality of a medieval siege upon a city. Although this is not subject matter to be enjoyed, mature readers will enjoy Little's masterful use of language... Our modern day world continues to be shaped by religious persecution and conflict, and so readers will likely recognize some of the 21st century in this book set in the 15th century. [An] extremely well written and intriguing book. Highly Recommended.
Children's Literature
AGERANGE: Ages 12 up.

Ramon is the son of a scribe, an apprentice scribe himself, and the great-grandson of conversos, those who converted from Judaism to Christianity in medieval Spain. Even though Ramon and his parents were raised Christian, the Inquisition has been making life hard for them. Amir is a Moor slave, a Muslim of Spain. Ramon and Amir's worlds collide when Amir is given to Ramon's family. The boys are about the same age and Ramon is jealous of the time his Papa spends with Amir learning to read and write Arabic. But one fateful day changes the course of both Amir's and Ramon's lives. Little's descriptions of life in this time of distrust and fanaticism are made all the more poignant by the way they are written--this is a novel in verse, with Amir's words sandwiched between Ramon's. The imagery is brief for each poem, yet each one resonates of its own accord. Some are of the past, some of the present, some funny, many serious, but all make up the lives of Ramon and Amir in powerful words. While the language is easy to read, the subject matter is not. The format, however, makes it much more palatable and therefore easier to absorb than perhaps long, drawn-out, descriptive paragraphs of the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition would have been. This is an amazing tale of survival and hard-won friendship during a time of intolerance and pain for many. This would be a very good book to use in many different kinds of classes, from studying poetry to history, and also could be read on one's own for its message of hope amid struggles. Reviewer: Kathleen Foucart

School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up- In this novel set in 15th-century Spain at the time of the Inquisition, prejudice, bigotry, and ignorance destroy the peaceful coexistence of Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The effects of this dismal history are dramatized in this story of two teens-Ramon, a Converso or converted Jew, and Amir, a Muslim who has been brought as a slave to Ramon's family. Written in prose poetry, the story's focus shifts from Ramon to Amir and then back to Ramon. Amir is treated by the Benvenistes as another son, making Ramon jealous and straining the relationship between them. Each teen has to make compromises in order to survive, and Ramon's choice estranges him from his father. Both protagonists demonstrate their courage as they struggle against the mortal danger in which they are placed. This riveting story is peopled by flesh-and-blood characters and replete with horrific historical detail. The challenging format renders it most appropriate for strong readers. This selection would be a good companion to Alice Hoffman's Incantation (Little, Brown, 2006) and Kathryn Lasky's Blood Secret (HarperCollins, 2004).-Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ

School Library Journal
This riveting story is peopled by flesh-and-blood characters and replete with horrific historical detail.
— Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781554511907
  • Publisher: Annick Press, Limited
  • Publication date: 9/1/2009
  • Pages: 312
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Melanie Little is an award-winning short-story writer, essayist and book reviewer. Canada's national newspaper has stated that she "could very well become the Alice Munro of our generation." This is her first novel and her first book for young people. She lives in Calgary, Alberta.

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