Belle Epoque [NOOK Book]

Overview

When Maude Pichon runs away from provincial Brittany to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Desperate for work, she answers an unusual ad. The Durandeau Agency provides its clients with a unique service—the beauty foil. Hire a plain friend and become instantly more attractive.
   Monsieur Durandeau has made a fortune from wealthy socialites, and when the Countess Dubern needs a companion for her headstrong ...
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Belle Epoque

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Overview

When Maude Pichon runs away from provincial Brittany to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Desperate for work, she answers an unusual ad. The Durandeau Agency provides its clients with a unique service—the beauty foil. Hire a plain friend and become instantly more attractive.
   Monsieur Durandeau has made a fortune from wealthy socialites, and when the Countess Dubern needs a companion for her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, Maude is deemed the perfect adornment of plainness. 
   Isabelle has no idea her new "friend" is the hired help, and Maude's very existence among the aristocracy hinges on her keeping the truth a secret. Yet the more she learns about Isabelle, the more her loyalty is tested. And the longer her deception continues, the more she has to lose.  

   Inspired by a short story written by Emile Zola, Belle Epoque is set at the height of bohemian Paris, when the city was at the peak of decadence, men and women were at their most beautiful, and morality was at its most depraved.

A YASLA William C. Morris Award Finalist


A Junior Library Guild Selection

“Both touching and fun, this is a story about many things—true friendship, real beauty, being caught between two worlds—and it will delight fans of historical fiction.”—Publisher’s Weekly

“A refreshingly relevant and inspiring historical venture.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A compelling story about friendship, the complexity of beauty, and self-discovery…full of strong female characters.”—School Library Journal

“With resonant period detail, elegant narration, and a layered exploration of class and friendship, this provocative novel is rife with satisfaction.”—Booklist

“Much to offer a contemporary YA audience…flirtation and match-making to tantalize romance fans…prime book-club fare.”—The Bulletin

"This delectable Parisian tale left me sighting with sweet satisfaction. J'adore Belle Epoque!"-Sonya Sones, author of What My Mother Doesn't Know and To Be Perfectly Honest


From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 6–8—Inspired by Emile Zola's short story Les Repoussoirs, this debut novel takes place during the late 1800s. Maude Pichon, a runaway, discovers life in Paris to be crueler and much less romantic than she imagined from her country home in provincial Brittany. To get by, she takes a job as a repoussoir, a young woman hired for her ugliness and used to highlight the beauty of her patroness. Maude's first client is a challenge: a headstrong young woman named Isabel, who is unaware that Maude has been hired by her mother to act as Isabel's beauty foil. But as the lines of friendship are blurred by her responsibilities, what will Maude choose? Should she stay true to her friend at the expense of her career or continue to be the mother's puppet, potentially sacrificing Isabel's happiness? This is a compelling story about friendship, the complexity of beauty, and self-discovery. It is full of strong female characters driven by the pursuit of their dreams rather than pursuit of a husband, thus defying their societal roles. Maude's evolution and development are believable, and are the driving force of the plot. Her journey from the proletariat to the elite and back again gives readers a comprehensive picture of Parisian life during the Belle Epoque.—Tiffany O'Leary, Mount Saint Mary College, NY
Publishers Weekly
Sixteen-year-old runaway Maude Pichon is ugly—so much so that she lands a job as a “repoussoir,” an unattractive girl paid to be seen with a lovelier girl to make her appear even more beautiful by comparison (in a note, Ross explains that this fictional profession derives from an 1866 Zola short story). Maude is humiliated by the idea, but her poverty leaves her few options. When chance sends a dashing composer Maude’s way, and a countess hires her to befriend her independent-minded daughter, Isabelle, readers will see the potential for a happy ending. Ross offers not one, but two strong heroines in her debut novel, both navigating the choppy waters of the Paris debutante season, albeit from different social classes. Though Maude is the chief protagonist (and narrator), Isabelle is highly engaging as a young woman determined to challenge the expectations of her gender and study science at a university. Both touching and fun, this is a story about many things—true friendship, real beauty, being caught between two worlds—and it will delight fans of historical fiction. Ages 12–up. Agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (June)
From the Publisher
A William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist

A Junior Library Guild Selection

“Both touching and fun, this is a story about many things—true friendship, real beauty, being caught between two worlds—and it will delight fans of historical fiction.”—Publisher’s Weekly

“A refreshingly relevant and inspiring historical venture.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A compelling story about friendship, the complexity of beauty, and self-discovery…full of strong female characters.”—School Library Journal

“With resonant period detail, elegant narration, and a layered exploration of class and friendship, this provocative novel is rife with satisfaction.”—Booklist

“Much to offer a contemporary YA audience…flirtation and match-making to tantalize romance fans…prime book-club fare.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

"This delectable Parisian tale left me sighting with sweet satisfaction. J'adore Belle Epoque!"-Sonya Sones, author of What My Mother Doesn't Know and To Be Perfectly Honest

"This is an excellent cross-genre read that many will appreciate for its themes on how young women view themselves and the world around them."-Historical Novels Review, Editor's Choice

From the Hardcover edition.

VOYA - Shana Morales
Belle Epoque is the story of Maude Pichon, a runaway who lives in Paris in the late 1880s. Desperate for work, Maude begrudgingly takes a job at the Durandeau Agency as a repoussoir, a woman who is hired as the unappealing or ugly "friend" as a means of highlighting the attractiveness of high society women. Despite dealing with the emotional conflict and self-esteem issues that go along with this position, Maude manages to befriend girls at the agency and find a potential love interest in a young man named Paul. Maude's inner conflict increases as she finds herself growing closer to her assigned "friend" Isabelle, the daughter of Countess Dubern, who has no idea that Maude is a hired foil. The period and passage of time is clearly marked by the ongoing construction, and ultimately the opening, of the Eiffel tower. In the author's notes, Ross explains the inspiration behind and research that went into the piece, but ultimately this story may have worked better in the present time. Maude's inner conflict and ultimate realizations will leave readers ready for discussion. The unique and interesting concept will appeal to readers, even those who otherwise might not be drawn to period pieces. Belle Epoque is a great addition to a library collection and would make an appealing book club selection. Reviewer: Shana Morales
Children's Literature - Elisabeth Greenberg
What would it be like to be hired for your ugliness, or, in the case of poor Breton girl Maude Pichon, for her “light ornamentation of plainness.” Maude is hired to act as a foil for a beautiful debutante, but Maude is so revolted at being told she is unattractive that, despite the allure of gold, she walks out. But two weeks later after working hard long hours at a Parisian laundry, burning her hands, and being denigrated by her coworkers, she gathers her courage and goes back to the Durandeau Agency. In the late 1800s Paris is swinging into the modern century, symbolized by the scientifically designed Eiffel Tower, but its aristocrats are still ruled by the social demands of making a “good” marriage, one that increases a family’s wealth. Plain Maude is paired with beautiful Isabelle whose marriage is being planned by her mother. But Isabelle has plans of her own, to study science at the Sorbonne, and Maude is soon caught up in the intrigue--trying to keep her job while losing her heart to a duke (or perhaps to a poor musician), making friends and losing them in search of wealth and glamor, and finally following her true friendships by finding a way for her “ugly” friends and colleagues to pursue their dreams. This well-written and developed novel is a fascinating glimpse of Paris’s Belle Epoque at the end of the 19th Century. A perfect book for a girl who needs to be led to history through a personal story. Reviewer: Elisabeth Greenberg AGERANGE: Ages 14 up.
Kirkus Reviews
The aristocrats and the poor clash in 1888-9 Paris. Most Parisians dislike the new tower under construction by Monsieur Eiffel, but Maude, a 16-year-old who has run away from home, loves what others see as a monstrosity. Maude, too, is a monstrosity to some. A girl with no better than plain features, she nearly starves until she takes a job as a repoussoir. Wealthy women hire ugly women such as Maude to join them in public so that they will shine all the brighter in comparison. Countess Dubern hires Maude as a companion for her daughter Isabelle during the girl's first social season, with the expectation that Maude will steer Isabelle into an engagement with the handsome and wealthy Duke d'Avaray. Rebellious Isabelle intends to study science at the Sorbonne instead, refusing to marry. The two girls develop a real friendship, leaving Maude torn between her job and her loyalty to Isabelle. Ross models her plot on an 1866 story by Zola, "Les Repoussoirs," expanding its focus to highlight Maude's plight and using that to illuminate the chasm that existed between the wealthy and the poor. Maude, with her artistic insight, her pluck and her intelligence, despite her lack of formal education, perhaps comes across as a less-than-typical adolescent of that time but holds readers' interest throughout. A refreshingly relevant and inspiring historical venture. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375985270
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 6/11/2013
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 271,957
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: HL760L (what's this?)
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Ross studied French at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and between semesters she worked in Paris and Brittany. She lives in Los Angeles. When she isn't writing, Elizabeth edits feature films. Visit her at elizabethrossbooks.com or follow @RossElizabeth on Twitter.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 5, 2013

    Belle Epoque , the debut novel by Elizabeth Ross was not the boo

    Belle Epoque , the debut novel by Elizabeth Ross was not the book that I was expecting to read when I opened it. I allowed myself to be misled by the synopsis and thought that I was getting a Cinderella/Ugly Duckling story. I am so glad that I was mistaken.

    Maude Pichon was a girl who ran away from an arranged marriage in the north of France (yes, I had to cheat to see where Brittany actually was, geographically speaking) to the glitz, glamour, and beauty of Paris. The book opens with Maude learning that the world is a much bigger place than she ever imagined. Despite grabbing what she believed to be a large amount of money from the till at her father's store, she quickly finds that life in the big city is expensive and cruel. In order to make ends meet in the most undemanding way possible, she finds herself working as a repoussoir - an ugly individual hired to make the employer more attractive by comparison. She is initially against the degrading work, but finds herself playing a poor country cousin debutante for the Parisian social "season".

    Before I say anything else, I want to touch upon how beautifully Ross crafted the setting of the novel. I felt like I was deep in the narcissism of nineteenth century Paris, surrounded by class division, worship of beauty, obsession of art, and derision of the new (like the mid-constructed Eiffel Tower). I've never been to Paris in person, but I felt like I had almost been there while experiencing it with Maude in Belle Epoque .

    I had a lot of respect for Maude doing what was necessary to survive on her own terms, far away from her comfort zone. Though she did thought being a repoussoir was distasteful, she did her job to the very best of her ability. Her treatment of her unknowing "charge", Isabelle, also made me think higher of Maude. She managed to stay true to herself in the face of Paris' intoxication, having few missteps.

    I think Belle Epoque is a book that speaks volumes about society, despite being set more than a century ago. It analyzes what it means to be beautiful, and where the importance of it should fall in comparison to other things such as self-respect, honesty, friendship, and loyalty. I think Elizabeth Ross did the very best possible thing with the book by not turning it into a fairy tale. Maude was treated as a real girl, with real issues, with who twenty-first century teens can easily relate.

    I recommend Belle Epoque to anyone who is looking for a heroine who strives to make her life her own or enjoys reading historical fiction that comes across very realistically. While being a young adult novel, I think it can also appeal to adult readers with it's beautiful setting. I look forward to reading more works by Elizabeth Ross in the future.

    *To satisfy FTC guidelines, I am disclosing that I received an advance copy of the book briefly for reviewing purposes through DAC ARC Tours in exchange for an honest review. The book was likely provided to the tour by the publisher or author, which has in no way affected the outcome of my review. All opinions expressed are rambling, honest, and completely my own.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2013

    Unique-highly recommended

    What a unique subject-repousser(ugly women). Inspired from a story written by an 18th century writer Emile Zola. Ugly women (repousser) are hired by the aristicratic belles to make them stand out. So, they are noticed by future spouses. I enjoyed reading this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2013

    Beautiful

    This is an extremely beautiful book that I have no quips with. It explains Paris like a dream to me, and makes me yearn to fall back into history and live among the Parisians. Note that I've never really cared about Paris or ever going there, but it makes me ache that these people and their lives that no longer exist within modern society today.

    When the book opens, I really felt for the main character, Maude -- a plain looking girl who is just trying to earn an honest day's living. At first I wondered why she wouldn't take a job as a repoussoir if she was so poor. But would anyone want to take a job where you would constantly be told how ugly you are in comparison to a beautiful person? Think about how that would work among Hollywood socialities, to rent an ugly person for a day so that they may appear pretty?

    What I love about this is the writing and how simple it is with all of its layers and complexities. Mrs. Ross has woven a beautiful story about the beauty and ugliness of the rich juxtaposed regular people trying to look in from the outside. Both the rich and poor have good qualities to them; both have their ugly sides. I love the balance the author proposes through Maude's eyes and how everything in this novel has a purpose to it.

    If you like shows like Downton Abbey, I believe you will love this book. I encourage Mrs. Ross to continue writing, Lord knows we need all the good books we can get considering how many terrible bad ones I've read. Please, please continue writing. Thank you!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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