A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a fairly harmless piece of historical fluff. Betsy is a tomboy but superficial and self-centered; she helps her family's tutor hatch an escape plan for Bonaparte but when the beloved tutor dies in a test run, she tells no one and goes merrily on to a ball. Her 16-year-old sister dallies with older officers while trying to find a husband. The historical details get lost in a convoluted storyline that has Napoleon Bonaparte playing the part of a misunderstood hero who commands the devotion of a bored 14-year-old girl -- but at least he doesn't take advantage of her.
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What's the story?
Fourteen-year-old Betsy Balcombe finishes school and feels trapped on the island that is her home in 1815. Despite living on the edge of nowhere, her parents expect her to be a prim and proper young woman. Instead she likes to sneak out of her window at night and run around town in her nightgown, only to encounter Napoleon Bonaparte, exiled with his entire entourage. Because she is bored and knows it would annoy her parents, she befriends him when he is stationed at her house, and even helps hatch an escape plan for him. It fails and kills a man, but Betsy goes on to enjoy her first ball, and her first romance with an older naval officer. But false rumors of Napoleon's relationship with Betsy create all kinds of problems for her and her family. Author includes source notes, historical notes, and notes on the Napoleonic Code.
Is it any good?
These are cardboard characters that don't engender much emotion. Betsy is "headstrong" yet also thoughtless. And all the girl-power in the book is negated by the short-sighted, predictable ambitions of this spoiled teen.
The odd mix of historical details and preposterous plot lines never gel to make a respectable romance or an alternative history. The author's note at the end explains that most of the characters were based on actual people, and that records show that the exiled Bonaparte did make the acquaintance of Betsy and her family. But that doesn't seem to make the story any more intriguing.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the role of women early in the 19th century. What were Betsy's chances of living her adult life off the island?
Does history show Napoleon to be a hero, or a villain? What were his biggest contributions? Was he important for the reasons Betsy thought he was?
Was it hard to imagine this was a true story, even though most of the characters were based on real people?
For kids who love history
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