A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Fountains of Silence is the fourth historical fiction novel from award-winning author Ruta Sepetys. It chronicles life in 1957 Spain under fascist dictator Francisco Franco from the perspective of a young American photographer and the beautiful and mysterious Spanish maid assigned to his family at a luxury hotel in Madrid. The story delves into the many ways that people suffered under the dictatorship and how American and foreign tourists were blinded to the reality of the human rights violations for the sake of their comfort and luxury. The book doesn't shy away from describing violence, from arrests, torture, and killings to stolen children. The only strong language is "Oh my God!" But the themes and atrocities described make it best for older middle schoolers, high schoolers, and adults.
What's the story?
Ruta Sepetys' fourth historical novel THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE centers on Spain during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. After two decades of isolation from most of the world, Spain has opened its doors to tourists and foreign investors. In Madrid, 1957, 18-year-old Daniel Matheson and his parents, a Texas oil tycoon and a Spanish-born mother-turned-Dallas socialite, arrive at the posh Hilton hotel that caters to rich Americans. With his professional-grade camera in hand, Daniel, who's bilingual, hopes to reconnect with his mother's country (and build up his photography portfolio for a prestigious photography competition), while his father works on a lucrative oil deal with the fascist government. Daniel meets his family's dedicated hotel maid, Anna, who's gorgeous and secretive, and clearly hiding a lot about life outside the elite bubble of the hotel. Anna, it turns out, is the orphaned daughter of Republicans killed during the Civil War. A third plotline focuses on Anna's devout cousin Puri, who works at a Catholic orphanage and begins to question whether the orphans really do have dead parents or if the Church and State are up to something more sinister.
Is it any good?
Thoroughly researched and beautifully written, Sepetys has created yet another masterpiece that crosses over from young adult to general historical fiction. Like her other novels, this one is full of intricate historical details, a swoon-worthy, slow-burning romance, and a fully fleshed-out setting that will make readers believe they've actually visited Madrid and Vallejas or witnessed an amateur torero exhibition. While the main characters are Daniel and Anna, Sepetys weaves in the perspectives of the devout Puri and of Anna's older siblings in an organic way. Everyone's individual story is part of the heartbreaking whole, with Daniel acting as readers' clueless but well-intentioned guide into the deafening silence of life under Franco.
With this fourth book, Sepetys further solidifies her place at the top of YA fiction's master writers, and the preeminent historical writer for young adults. While the steamy fantasies and edgy contemporaries have their place in the space, teens, parents, and teachers should consider Sepetys' titles an automatic buy or borrow. She somehow manages to make 500+ pages fly by with a riveting story simultaneously filled with suspenseful dread and hopeful anticipation. As the pages turn, readers will fall as much for the charming and clever Spanish girl and the courageous and talented Texan boy as they do for each other. But calling the book a romance is to do it a disservice. It's a satisfying epic about so many kinds of love, from romantic to familiar, and an exploration of the important difference between patriotism and nationalism.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about life under a dictatorial regime as depicted in The Fountains of Silence. Is the violence necessary to Sepetys' story? If so, why? Is historically accurate violence different from completely fictional violence?
Discuss the various ways "silence" plays a part in the story. How did keeping silent work for the different characters? How is speaking out and having a voice a form of freedom?
What did you learn about the history of Francoist Spain? Does the book make you interested in learning more about the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath? What do you think of American involvement during the Franco regime?
The author's novels are considered "crossover titles," which appeal equally to adults and teens. What do you think of that designation? What are some other "crossover" books you enjoy?
- Author: Ruta Sepetys
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Holidays
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Philomel
- Publication date: October 1, 2019
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 512
- Available on: Paperback, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: November 20, 2019
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