The Smile

Written by Donna Jo Napoli
Review by Nancy Castaldo

The Smile is the next title in Donna Jo Napoli’s growing list of young adult novels. Many of her previous retellings offered complex stories of many well-known fairy/folktales, such as Zel, a retelling of Rapunzel; Beast, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast; Bound, a retelling of Cinderella; and Breath, a retelling of The Tale of the Pied Piper. This one is different. Rather than enter the fairytale world, Napoli returns to Italy and tells the tale of the famous painting, the Mona Lisa.

Readers are introduced to a young Elisabetta, the daughter of a silk merchant. Even though she does not feel she is a beauty, Elisabetta catches the eye of the famous painter, Leonardo and a young Medici prince. It is the young Guiliano de’Medici who calls Elisabetta Monna Lisa and remembers her smile. Although he is the heir to the most powerful family in Florence and the two fall in love, Elisabetta’s father finds a more suitable match for his daughter in his new wife’s brother-in-law, another silk merchant.

Donna Jo Napoli once again offers a complex story, combining history with a wonderfully imagined tale complete with rich characters and deep emotions. Napoli’s fans will happily add this tale to their growing list of favorites. In addition, lovers of art history and adult readers who have enjoyed Girl with a Pearl Earring will also relish The Smile. Ages 12 and up.