Isabella’s Libretto

Written by Kimberly Cross Teter
Review by Hilary Daninhirsch

Isabella’s Libretto is a gem of a book about a teenager who, in the early 1700s, was abandoned at birth at a Venice orphanage run by the Catholic Church. Called Isabella dal Cello because of her skillful cello playing for the orphanage orchestra, she is devoted to her craft and cares for her cello as if it’s her lifeline.

“Four Seasons” composer Don Antonio Vivaldi is a music teacher and conductor at the school, and he recognizes Isabella’s extraordinary gift and devotion to her cello playing. With all her heart, Isabella wants Vivaldi to write a special solo piece for her. When Isabella’s close friend leaves the monastery for marriage, Isabella hopes that perhaps she will have an opportunity to realize this dream.

In the meantime, Isabella yearns to see what lies beyond the walls behind which she’s been cloistered her entire life. A scary escape with her best friend to see fireworks leads to an encounter with some dangerous men, a memory that haunts her throughout the book. As penance for escaping the orphanage, Isabella is charged with becoming a mentor to Monica, a new arrival. Monica had survived a fire that killed her parents, though she was left scarred and disfigured.

At a time when women had few, if any, choices, Isabella is faced with having to choose between two paths: love of a man or love of music. This young adult book is simultaneously melancholy and uplifting and explores issues of identity, loneliness, and celebrates the beauty of music. The author skillfully transports the reader back in time to a long-ago world. Though it is marketed to a young adult audience, the book would appeal to readers of all ages.