Encaleflora, a tiny village in Spain, has been home for the deMadrigal family for over five hundred years. Estrella, sixteen and on the verge of womanhood, lives there with her mother, Abra, a skilled herbalist and artisan, her formidable grandmother, and her grandfather, Jose, a well respected scholar. None of them pay her much attention, especially since her older brother, Luis, has gone to study at the seminary. One day Estrella and her best friend, Catalina, see smoke coming from the direction of the city’s center. They run to find out the cause. At first, Estrella thinks someone is burning doves. Then she realizes that the ‘doves’ are pages from books seized from the Jews in the town’s alajama, or Jewish quarter. The fires that day signal the beginning of a series of life changing events for Estrella and her family.
This profoundly moving young adult novel explores the persecution of the Jews in 15th and 16th century Spain. In particular, it delves into the lives of the Marranos, or secret Jews, who converted to Christianity in order to avoid expulsion but covertly practiced their true religion. As Estrella’s mother teaches her, “the inside of something [is] not necessarily its outside.”
I found this book impossible to put down. Estrella deMadrigal is a brave, admirable, and honest heroine for young readers. This is a richly descriptive narrative, and I would recommend it to adults as well as teens.