Daughter of Venice

Daughter of Venice

4.2 37
by Donna Jo Napoli

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In 1592, Donata is a noble girl living in a palazzo on the Grand Canal. Girls of her class receive no education and rarely leave the palazzo. In a noble family, only one daughter and one son will be allowed to marry; Donata, like all younger daughters, will be sent to a convent. Donata longs to be tutored like her brothers and to see the Venice she has glimpsed


In 1592, Donata is a noble girl living in a palazzo on the Grand Canal. Girls of her class receive no education and rarely leave the palazzo. In a noble family, only one daughter and one son will be allowed to marry; Donata, like all younger daughters, will be sent to a convent. Donata longs to be tutored like her brothers and to see the Venice she has glimpsed only on the map. What is the world beyond her balcony, beyond what she sees when she glides, veiled, in a gondola down the canal? She dresses as a boy and escapes the palazzo on the Grand Canal to see the world before she is shut away, and to try to find a way to escape her fate. Donata risks everything; she changes her life, and her family’s life, forever when she walks through the door and encounters a Venice she never knew existed.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Napoli’s many fans will not be disappointed by this engrossing and exotic novel.”—School Library Journal, Starred

Kathleen Odean
Sixteenth-century Venice springs to life in this entrancing historical novel. Rebelling at the restrictions that surround her, fourteen-year-old Donata seeks adventure and education, and finds them, along with romance and a greater understanding of her world. Napoli takes on a lot, writing about commerce, Judaism and a host of other subjects, but the strength of the plot and characters ties it all together in this outstanding novel.
Publishers Weekly
A 14-year-old girl in the late 16th century wants to see Venice and receive the same education as her brothers. So she disguises herself as a boy and leads readers on a tour of historical Venice and its complex society and government. Ages 12-up. (Dec.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, May 2002: Napoli is a professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College and she clearly understands the love of learning in the telling of this story of an exceptional girl, Donata, living in Venice in 1592. Donata is one of the daughters of a noble family, with traditional expectations carefully spelled out. Only one son may marry, and one daughter. The other daughters of the family are expected to go into convents; the sons are chosen for various professions in diplomacy, the law, and other positions of high responsibility. Donata's family is exceptionally rich, so perhaps a second daughter will have an arranged marriage as well. Donata at first thinks she would like this above the life in a convent, but really what she most yearns for is adventure and knowledge of her own city and of the world around her. With the help of her siblings, she disguises herself as a boy and goes into the streets of Venice, looking for experience. She makes friends with a young Jew who lives in the Jewish ghetto and works at a printer's. This contact starts to change her view of the world. She persuades her father to allow her to take part in the tutor's lessons with her brothers and she quickly proves to herself and to others that she has an exceptional mind. She learns to read and write—Venetian and Latin. The risks she takes in her disguise endanger herself and her family. One beloved sister will lose the chance to fulfill her own dream unless Donata comes up with a plan to alter both their futures. The reader gets caught up in the life in Venice of this time. Donata's family seem quite real, even if their ways are so different from a family's today.I think YAs will be stunned to realize the limited opportunities for females through most of history—even wealthy girls from the elite classes. This is the strength of Napoli's work: through the strength of her own scholarship and storytelling abilities, Napoli makes Donata and her world a reality. In an Author's Note, Napoli dedicates this story to Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, who became the first woman to earn a degree as Doctor of Philosophy, University of Padua, in 1678. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2002, Random House, Dell Laurel Leaf, 271p. map., Ages 12 to 18.
—Claire Rosser
In sixteenth-century Venice, the children of noble families lead lives circumscribed by tradition. Usually, only one son and one daughter marries. Girls are protected and kept secluded from the world. They learn music and needlework, not reading and writing, and they never go out unaccompanied. Although her sisters seem satisfied with their lives, fourteen-year-old Donata is not. She yearns to see the same Venice her brothers see, and she wants to know how the world works. When she dresses as a boy and slips out of the family palace, Donata discovers her city to be far more dangerous than she imagined. Yet she is drawn back to it day after day, even as her parents are deciding her future. When a Jewish scribe befriends her and gives her a job as a copyist, Donata begins to learn how other Venetians live and finds herself falling in love with the scribe. Napoli makes a familiar formula fresh by adding Shakespearean twists and including rich sensory details. Some readers will get bogged down in the facts about Venetian geography, economics, and politics, and some might balk at implausibility in the plot—Donata goes from being illiterate to reading Latin fluently within several weeks. Nevertheless readers who enjoy historical fiction will be drawn to Donata's engaging personality, her exciting adventures, and the warmth of her family life. They will not be disappointed by the thoroughly satisfactory ending, which remains true to the historical record and does not give in to saccharine romance. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2002, Wendy LambBooks/Random House, 228p,
— Rebecca Barnhouse
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10-As the daughter of a Venetian nobleman in 1592, 14-year-old Donata lives a sheltered and prescribed life. According to custom, her oldest sister will marry, either she or her identical twin Laura will stay home as the maiden aunt to care for her brother's children, and the other will go to a convent with their younger sisters. The girls spend their days doing chores, winding yarn onto giant bobbins for the family's wool trade, studying music, or going to parties where their oldest sister is examined as a marriage prospect. All that changes the day Donata dons boy's clothing and goes exploring outside the walls of the family's palazzo. Evading a bully, she ends up in the Jewish ghetto where she befriends a young man, No , who makes her question the privileges of her class, and at the same time she gains permission from her father to start studying with her brothers' tutor. When her parents announce a surprise betrothal that will curtail her studies and leave Laura convent-bound, Donata takes an action that drastically affects the whole family. While a current trend in historical fiction presents a girl with modern sensibilities chafing under the strict rules of her time, nothing about Donata seems forced. Even when acting rebelliously, her actions and thoughts feel authentic to the time and world that Napoli portrays. Even Donata's love for No is tempered by the knowledge that she could never convert to Judaism. Napoli's many fans will not be disappointed by this engrossing and exotic novel.-Lisa Prolman, Greenfield Public Library, MA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Compelling historical fiction explores the Byzantine rules governing the social order of 16th-century Venice. Fourteen-year-old Donata, a younger daughter of one of Venice's wealthiest noble families, has been raised to expect little; according to the complex conventions of her society, only the oldest daughter of the family can expect to marry and leave the household. And to leave the household is what Donata desperately wants. Intelligent and curious, she chafes at the rules that dictate that she remain uneducated and never have the freedom to explore her city. In the tradition of spunky heroines before her, she devises a scheme that will allow her to sneak out of the house disguised as a poor boy and wander Venice, where she meets, befriends, and inevitably falls in love with Noe, a Jewish copyist. At the same time, she successfully petitions her father to sit in on her brothers' tutoring sessions and thus begins a formal education. Napoli resists the easy anachronism; spunky though Donata is, she remains committed to her family and her society, seeking a solution to her unhappiness that, although somewhat unconventional, nevertheless remains essentially true to her culture and its restrictions. The first-person, present-tense narration allows the reader to encounter Venice along with Donata, from the stately palazzos to the streets populated by beggars and to the Ghetto beyond. Fascinating tidbits of information about Venice's society, politics, history, and economy find their way painlessly into the narrative. While readers will be rightly skeptical at Donata's speedy mastery of not only written Venetian but Latin as well, they will nevertheless find themselves absorbed in her storyand the snapshot of her city that it provides. (Fiction. 10-15)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
4.22(w) x 6.87(h) x 0.62(d)
Age Range:
12 - 15 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


A big fruit boat passes, rocking our gondola hard. Paolina tumbles against me with a laugh. I put my arm around her waist and hug her.

Paolina squirms free. "It's too hot, Donata." She pulls on one of my ringlets and laughs again.

Yes, it's hot, but it's a wonderful morning. The Canal Grande is busy. That's nothing new to us. From our bedchamber balcony my sisters and I watch the daily activity. Our palazzo stands on the Canal Grande and our rooms are three flights up, so we have a perfect view. But down here in the gondola, with the noise from the boats, and the smell of the sea, and the glare of the sun on the water, not even the thin gauze of my veil can mute the bold lines of this delightful chaos.

Our Venice, called La Serenissima, "The Most Serene," is frenzied today.

My feet start to tap in excitement, but, of course, they can't, because of my shoes. Whenever I go on an outing, I wear these shoes. They have wooden bottoms thicker than the width of my palm; I have to practice before venturing out, or I'll fall. And even then, I go at Uncle Umberto's pace—a blind man's pace. I look in envy at Paolina's zoccoli, her sandals with thin wooden bottoms. Paolina is only nine and she hasn't been subjected to high shoes and tight corsets yet.

"Can I take my shoes off, Mother? Just for the boat ride, I mean."

"Of course not, Donata."

"But I hate these shoes. They keep me from doing what I want."

"That's exactly why you should wear them." Mother reaches across Paolina's lap and gives a little yank to my wide skirt so that it lies flat over my lap. "High shoes make sure young ladies behave properly."

"Because we're afraid of falling? But you always say proper behavior comes from proper thoughts."

"Keep your shoes on, Donata. And don't make remarks like that when we arrive." Mother sits tall herself. "We're almost there now. Be perfect ladies, all of you."

Laura, my twin, sits facing me, with our big sister Andriana beside her. Laura stretches out her right foot so that her shoe tip clunks against mine. She's grinning under the white veil that hides her face, I'm sure of that. The very idea of my being a perfect lady is absurd. I grin back, though, of course, Laura cannot see my face, either.

Andriana's hands are in her lap, the fingers of one squeezed in the other so hard that her knuckles stand out like white beads. Mother's words make her throw her shoulders back and stretch her neck long. Underneath Andriana's veil, she is far from laughter; I bet her lips are pressed together hard.

Mother grew up the daughter of a wealthy artisan—a citizen, not a noble. There are three kinds of Venetians: plain people, who cannot vote and whose needs and rights must be protected by the nobles; citizens, who can vote but not hold office; and nobles. Mother was lucky to marry into Father's noble family. We all know that, but Andriana is the one who worries about it. She worries that our questionable breeding casts doubt on her worthiness as a bride. But she needn't. Andriana is sixteen, two years older than Laura and I. She's ready for a husband. And she'll get one easily. The oldest daughter in any noble family marries, even if she's ugly. And Andriana, with her wide-set, hazel eyes and delicate, pointed chin, is stunning. The mothers at the garden party today will all want her as a daughter-in-law.

If Andriana is lucky, she'll marry someone young and handsome. How I wish that for her. There are too many old widowers around looking for brides. The breath of decrepit Messer Corner, his exaggerated limp, the gray hair from his ears pollute my thoughts. That can't happen to Andriana. Father would never choose poorly for her, no matter how rich a suitor was. Andriana will marry someone vigorous, most certainly. She will have children.

Children. The youngest in our family is Giovanni—already three years old. There are twelve of us: Francesco, who is twenty-two; Piero, twenty; Antonio, seventeen; Andriana, sixteen; Vincenzo, fifteen; Laura and I, fourteen; Paolina, nine; Bortolo, six; Nicola, five; Maria, four; and Giovanni, three.

Giovanni is Mother's last child. That's what Mother says, at least. Father likes to say, "Things happen," and he winks. But I'm old enough to understand that Mother is probably right about this. Giovanni is our only brother who still sleeps on the same floor of the house as the girls, and I adore him. We all do. He'll probably move down to the small boys' floor soon. I miss having a baby in the house.

My heart squeezes. I want to take Laura's hand, but she's sitting too far from me. Laura and I have to be careful today—as careful as we can. The perfect ladies Mother wants us to be. For we, too, hope to marry someday. Both of us.

We've never voiced that hope to anyone else—it's a whisper between us in the dark. We know very well that if we hadn't been born twins, one of us would be the third sister and unmarriageable, for a nobleman is lucky to marry off one daughter and blessed to marry off two—he cannot hope to marry off more than two. But twins should be a special case—it's impossible to think of one of us marrying but not the other.

I place my feet primly together and sit up tall like Mother and Andriana.

The gondola veers into a side canal and the water is instantly calm and quiet. And smelly. This small canal is shallower than most, so the filth people throw into it can stink for days before it's finally washed out to the open waters of the lagoon. Hot weather brings the most foul odors.

The gondoliere in the front leaps onto the step and offers his hand to us, while the gondoliere in the back steadies the boat against the docking pole. I stand and hold on to one of the supports of the tent we've been riding under in the center of the gondola. Sweat rolls down my thigh. It's hot for late spring. I'd like to lift my skirts high and let a breeze tickle my bottom. But that's exactly the sort of behavior I must avoid today. I raise my skirts only high enough to allow me to step out of the boat.

Meet the Author

Donna Jo Napoli is the author of Crazy Jack, The Magic Circle, Stones in Water, and many other books, and is the chairperson of the linguistics department at Swarthmore College.

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Daughter of Venice 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was very interesting. Its about a Venetian Girl named Donata, who wants to decide what she wants for her life. I like this book because she also dares to speak her mind. This is also set in the Renassiance and in a time where women had little rights. And women were also not allowed to make there own decisions. Or speak their minds. She is kind of like me we voice our opinions and she looks like me too. Way to go Donna Jo Napoli you did another excellent job writing another book.
catswantme More than 1 year ago
This book is about a Venetian girl named Donata, who always speaks her mind. She wants more for her life than what she is given, and wants to achieve a great deal of success. She was adventurous and seeked many things she was told she couldn't have, and ended up getting them for herself, anyways. The plot was very strong and had interesting twists. The Author uses descriptions and phrases that were used back in the 1500's to recreate the image of Venice during the Renaissance. The book was based during the Renaissance, a time when women didn't have the same amount of rights that men had. The book really made me feel as if I was in the time period. Being 14, she was very courageous and set her mind to great things and accomplished them. She found romance and education, which  many other girls did not get to have. Since I am so close to her age I constantly wondered how it would be to live and grow up in those circumstances, it actually sounds pretty fun. By the last page I was left wanting so much more, I was left to imagine my own ending of the story. Overall, it was an outstanding book. ¿¿¿¿¿
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Daughter of Venice Book Review Daughter of Venice was overall one of the best historical fiction books I have read, over Storm of 1900 and Crispin.  The book had a strong plot with many twists and turns.  Overall this is a book of a strong girl who made a difference and still managed to do the right thing and have an adventure, I would totally want something like this to happen to me! One thing I did not like about the book was the ending.  Noe, one of the main characters, was basically forgotten about.  I would like to see how his ending was.  The author wrote a book about a girl wanting to find love, finds a guy she likes but after Donata stops her job, he disappears.  She never thought about him or mentioned him to one of her eleven siblings.  I just wish the ending stated a little more about him.  A quote that I heard a little while ago, “a book that lacks romance lacks excitement” Besides the ending the book was great.  It gave you the feel that you were in Venice back in the 1500s.  This book is set in the Renaissance and in a time where women had little rights.  They were not allowed to make their own decisions, or speak their minds.   I feel that most books in this time would cut the hard truths to make a happy story, but that was not what life was like back then.  I liked that Donna Jo Napoli did not cut out the truth; reading this you can’t help but feel sorry for Donata or anyone else in her position. The last main thing I like about the book is it leaves you with some suspense about Donata’s future.   Not too much, but just the right amount.  With her knowledge and her future laid out all you wonder about is if Paolina would get her help.  Even Giovanni or Bortolo, plus what about her brothers kids, would be she moved to a different house.  What if Noe came back?  These were all things that the book left me suspicious about.  Again though a great read. I would recommend this book to all of my friends and anyone who is just looking for a good read.  So sit down and make sure you have plenty of time because you will not want to put it down.  The book may be over, but there are much more adventures to live.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book when i first got it I expected it to have some inappropriate it stuff in it but there was none. I love when u can find good books that are not all about romance. Some people dont like the ending but i loved it. I am definitly recommending it to my friends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's really a wonderful story that gives you a look into a world that most have never seen before. I thought it was inspirational and sweet, and you find yourself rooting dor Donata from the first page; recoiling from the seeming injustice that is the way this society works, and supporting her all through the book. It's truly a great read, and I hope there are many more like it coming, I will buy them all without a second thought.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a book very close to my heart because it was my very first "real" book that I got as a gift many Christmases ago and I've reread it a hundred times since. A very inspiring and beautiful story! Especially reccomend it for young girls...not too young though like for preteens and up.
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songwriter More than 1 year ago
This book is an amazing story. To me it has funny parts where I have laughed out loud and other parts where I have come to tears because I feel so sorry for the main character, Donato. This novel gives you a great many details about how Venice used to run itself. All in all this is a must read book.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book because it does not hold back it shows what Venice really was in those times!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was a very interesting and exciting historical fiction novel. At times it was rather confusing or it just rambled on about nothing, but at others it kept my attention so well I actually skipped dinner to keep reading it! I'd recommend this book anyone in 7th grade or older because of the reading level and some of the content. Overall though, this was very gripping read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was written flawlessly and amazingly. Napoli does a wonderful job in describing Donata's [the main character] situation. Her story is touching, and most of all, captivating. This is honestly one of the best books I have ever read. This bit of historical fiction is truly a masterpiece.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book I have read it over and over again and still enjoy every time! Napoli creates a great atmosphere with interesting characters and a heart-breaking tale of young girls. Donata and Laura{the young girls} are likeable and very interesting to read about. Napoli pulls off writing about twins very easily. My only complaint is that it wasn't longer. It would be great if Mrs. Napoli would write a sequel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The plot of this book was very interesting and original. However, I felt that neither the characters nor the plot was developed enough. It was as if the author had this great idea and quickly put it on paper.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a great book. It kept you turning the pages wanting to find out what happened next. The ending was not what I expected but it leaves you thinking what will happen to the main character. This book is the only book I like by this author and she did a great job on it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
daughter of venice is a great book, but i was surprised at the ending. i was hoping that donata would get together with nao. to me, a little more romance would have been welcome, but still an awesome book! it showed what life was like in venice without skipping over the bitter truths. as i said before, a great book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading this book, it always kept me turning the pages wanting to find out more. The only bit that I didn't like was in the end nothing happened with Noe. The author leads you to think they will somehow get together and it never happens. This was a great book because this is a time period not very many young adult novels seem to touch on. Great read!