One of the best things about books is that they allow you to visit new places as well as other periods of time. I recently traveled to 1970’s Normandy, France through the pages of Chronicles From Chateau Moines by Evelyne Holingue.
Set in a small French village, we meet seventh grader Sylvie, who no longer wants to wear the handmade clothes tailored by her dressmaker mother. She wants a pair of Levis. The school is abuzz with the arrival of Scott and his family from Santa Monica, California. Scott represents everything that seems cool to Sylvie, with his American accent and wardrobe. But, why has Scott come to this village with his father and younger sister? What are their plans for the small boutique in town and why does Sylvie’s mother seem so resentful of the newcomers?
Chronicles From Chateau Moines is written in alternating first person chapters from the viewpoints of Sylvie and Scott. Sylvie is a singer-song writer and Scott is a musician who is grieving the death of his mother and determined to protest the Vietnam War.
Throughout the insights of Sylvie and Scott, the turbulence of the early 70’s becomes real. The Vietnam War protests, jealousy, death of a parent, the struggles of immigrant families, lingering memories of World War II, and the difficulties of growing up and expressing independence provide a rich background for this book. The music of this era is beautifully woven into this novel.
I particularly like the way the author has shown the struggles of Annie, a foster child living with the town bakers and Ibrahim, an immigrant from Algeria. They struggle with self-doubts and prejudice but are able to rise above their problems and become a part of the community.
Students in junior high school will enjoy Chronicles From Chateau Moines with its themes of young love and friendship. I haven’t read many novels for this age group set in the 1970’s or in France so readers will get a fascinating view of this time and place. The book includes a glossary of French terms used as well as a wonderful list of the songs and bands intertwined in the story.
The library in Chateau Moines is an important part of this novel. The librarian becomes a welcoming friend to the newcomers and the library provides a place of refuge. This library actually exists. I hope to get there one day in see it in person but for now I am satisfied to have visited the library through this novel.