Blood Secret

Written by Kathryn Lasky
Review by Sarah Johnson

Fourteen-year-old Jerry Luna has been selectively mute ever since her mother abandoned her. After years in Catholic charity homes, Jerry’s Aunt Constanza, her great-grandmother’s sister, brings her home to New Mexico. In Constanza’s cellar, Jerry discovers a trunk containing old family relics, including a piece of bloodstained old lace, and begins reliving her ancestors’ memories.

The scene shifts to Seville, Spain, in 1391. Ten-year-old Miriam lives with her sister and mother, a lacemaker, in the Jewish Quarter just as anti-Jewish sentiment is rising. It culminates in a horrible massacre in which the Jewish Quarter is destroyed, most of its residents killed, and the rest forced to convert to Catholicism. Miriam is renamed Maria, and her family relocates to the more tolerant city of Toledo, yet the Inquisition follows them even there. Over centuries, as the trunk journeys from Europe to the Yucatan to New Mexico, we witness Spanish Jews’ struggle to keep their religion secret until their conscious memories of it have finally been erased. Yet small traces remain. Constanza, a good Catholic, keeps her family’s tradition of lighting Sabbath candles, never realizing its origins lie in Judaism. As Jerry listens to the long-silenced voices of her ancestors, she regains her own.

Lasky chose to relate this novel as a series of historical episodes to demonstrate the Inquisition’s crushing effects on an entire people over a 500-year period. Some transitions from present to past feel a bit awkward, and some historical facts seem questionable (bobbin lace in 14th century Spain), but the novel’s emotional impact renders them minor. I highly recommend Blood Secret for all ages; it is haunting and unforgettable. (Ages 12+)