The Smile

The Smile

4.5 16
by Donna Jo Napoli

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Hers is the most famous portrait in the world. Here, in prose as rich as the high Renaissance, is Mona Lisa’s tale—a story of passion, loss, and, above all, love. Elisabetta longs for romance, though she thinks she’s too plain. Then, on a visit to Florence, she catches the eye of the great Leonardo da Vinci, and falls for a boy, Giuliano de’… See more details below


Hers is the most famous portrait in the world. Here, in prose as rich as the high Renaissance, is Mona Lisa’s tale—a story of passion, loss, and, above all, love. Elisabetta longs for romance, though she thinks she’s too plain. Then, on a visit to Florence, she catches the eye of the great Leonardo da Vinci, and falls for a boy, Giuliano de’ Medici. It’s a dangerous time to be—or to be involved with—a Medici. As tragedy and chaos threaten their happiness, Elisabetta faces the bittersweet truth of love.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

One of the great mysteries, the secret of Mona Lisa's smile, is captivatingly addressed in this fictional history of the woman who posed for Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting. Readers will immediately warm up to Elisabetta, who is down-to-earth and hardworking despite being a member of the nobility. First met when she is just shy of 13, she is shepherded through Florence by her family friend Leonardo, who recognizes her potential: "Mysteries promise in those limpid eyes," he tells her, "as though you're watching and waiting. As though nothing will really surprise you. It's unsettling." Yearning for Giuliano de' Medici, youngest son of the most powerful and influential Florentine family, she reluctantly agrees to marry another man when political upheaval tears her and Giuliano apart; years later, fleetingly reunited, Giuliano commissions Leonardo to paint her portrait. Napoli (Stones in Water) conjures the atmosphere of Renaissance Florence as Elisabetta, a country girl, is introduced to art, culture and conspicuous wealth during her trips to town. The historical detail and the romantic tragedy and redemption will prompt a closer inspection of Leonardo's masterpiece. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)

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. . . this richly embroidered romance..will captivate readers.
KLIATT - Janis Flint-Ferguson
Elisabetta is the 15-year-old daughter of an Italian textile artisan, and she lives outside of the thriving commercial center of Florence during the Middle Ages. Her father sells silk to the wealthy families of Florence and Lisa dreams of being betrothed to the young son of the Medici family, Giuliano. The two have spoken only briefly, but share a similar way of viewing the world, and Giuliano loves to see Lisa smile. Giuliano introduces her to artist Leonardo da Vinci, who is painting portraits for the Florentine families. But Lisa's smile is gone when family tragedy strikes and then the political situation of the day turns against the Medici family and all who have been connected to them. Lisa is torn between her young love in Florence and her family obligations in the countryside. Her father seeks to protect his daughter and looks to marry her to a young widower; she waits for word from Giuliano and longs to return to him; and Leonardo becomes a friend who wishes to paint the smile that Giuliano fell in love with. Napoli has drawn from the stories and legends surrounding da Vinci's enigmatic portrait of the Mona Lisa to create a story of a young woman who longs to make her own decisions, but who knows that obedience is a stronger value. The novel is engaging, mixing art and history with the desires and dreams of young people. Readers will come away with a new appreciation for and a more romantic view of an old, familiar work of art. Reviewer: Janis Flint-Ferguson
VOYA - Angie Hammond
Napoli's spot-on flair for infusing history with emotion does not disappoint in her newest novel. She spins a tale of a young noble woman, coming of age in Florence at the end of the tumultuous fifteenth century, who has the misfortune of falling passionately in love with the third son of the powerful Medici family. After the death of her beloved mother, only thoughts of Giuliano de' Medici give Elisabetta comfort in a world beyond her control. When her father quickly remarries and pledges Betta to another suitor, she has no doubt that Giuliano will come to claim her for his own. Nothing could possibly be as bitter as the reality that Guilano chooses loyalty to his exiled family over the passion that they share. Refined by the sadness and acceptance of her life and the times, Betta settles into an arranged marriage and eventually finds contentment in her loving husband and beautiful children. This acquiescence is eventually captured on canvas by her childhood friend, Leonardo, who paints Monna Elisabetta, or as he calls her, Mona Lisa, over the course of four years. Napoli freely admits the historical confusion over the accuracy of the woman behind the painting, but most readers with an interest in history will find this lively story a wonderful diversion from cold hard facts. Reviewer: Angie Hammond
School Library Journal

Gr 6-10

In the Florentine countryside, Monna Elisabetta struggles to become the noblewoman she's destined to be. Although her father is challenged to keep his silk business thriving during difficult economic times, Monna's mother is planning to give her an elaborate 13th birthday party in order to meet a suitable husband. But upon Mamma's sudden death, the event is canceled, and Monna turns her grief into preparing meals and working alongside her father. His friend Leonardo da Vinci has introduced her to Giuliano de' Medici, who becomes smitten with her smile. When her father remarries into nobility, Monna is forced into an arranged marriage, despite the fact that she has given her heart to Giuliano. This tribute to the woman behind Leonardo's masterpiece is another wonderfully researched and well-crafted novel from Napoli. Artfully blending fact and fiction, the author tells a tender story of a girl coming of age during a turbulent time. Readers will be moved by the plight of this three-dimensional protagonist.-Kimberly Monaghan, formerly at Vernon Area Public Library, IL

Kirkus Reviews

The lushly detailed life of a girl who grows up to pose for the Mona Lisa. Elisabetta savors her country home with its verdant gardens. She contentedly harvests olives and helps run the family's silkworm business. Because she's an aristocrat, she must betroth herself to a nobleman, but she hopes desperately for someone young and passionate rather than an old widower. On a visit to Florence, family acquaintance Leonardo da Vinci introduces her to Giuliano de' Medici, the youngest son of Florence's ruling family. In this city bursting with art and artists—Leonardo, Botticelli, a young Michelangelo—Betta and Giuliano connect instantly. After his father's death, Giuliano's older brother Piero claims the republic and runs it into the ground, resulting in their exile. Political strife and family deaths repeatedly postpone Betta's husband-seeking party, but although her engagement with Giuliano is secret, she never dreams the truth—that her father's betrothed her elsewhere. Through this deeply personal story, Napoli paints a magnificent and mournful portrait of the Italian Renaissance, both tragic and triumphant. (postscript) (Historical fiction. YA)

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Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
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Penguin Group
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0 MB
Age Range:
12 Years

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