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The Last Song by Eva Wiseman
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The Last Song

by Eva Wiseman

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I picked up this book because of the interesting cover. The synopsis also sounded interesting, so I decided I wanted to read the book. I had heard of the ‘Spanish Inquisition’ but really didn’t know much about it, and I thought this would be a good way to learn a little. When I picked the book up, I did not realize it is written for young adults, though I probably should have guessed this based on the thickness of the book! The good — the book is a quick, easy read and I learned something new. The not so good — the story is a bit simplistic.

My only knowledge of the Inquisition prior to reading this book was that people were tortured. I didn’t realize that the goal was to weed out ‘pseudo-Christians’. I also did not realize that Jews were expelled from Spain at the time. One more thing I didn’t realize is that this all went on during the time of Christopher Columbus and his voyage on behalf of Spain!

While I enjoyed the book, some of the events were a bit of a stretch. Isabel, the main character, is a fourteen year old girl from a wealthy family who has been raised in the Catholic church. She has been taught that Jews are beneath her; evil creatures. She has been promised that her family would allow her to choose her husband for love. So imagine her shock when her father returns from a trip with a boy chosen to be her husband; one she takes an instant dislike to! Her father explains it is for her own good, of course. At her engagement party, one of the ‘evil Jews’, son of a silversmith, delivers a bow for her center piece. Overnight, not only does Isabel decide that Jews are not, after all, evil creatures, but in fact, she goes from being a devout Catholic girl to experiencing a religious conversion and secretly studying the Torah. I would have preferred a little more character development for Isabel, but of course, this is a young adult book and moves more quickly. I did enjoy this book and found it interesting, but it left me wanting to know more. If you are interesting in learning more about the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, you may be interesting in a podcast from Stuff You Missed In History Class; The Expulsion of the Jews from Spain.

I received a review copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program and have written an honest review which appears above. ( )
  Time2Read2 | Mar 27, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I knew very little about the Spanish Inquisition, so I was quite excited to receive this historical fiction YA book set during that time. It is the story of Isabel, raised Catholic, who finds that this has been a lie. In reality her family was Jewish and had hidden this to remain safe. Isabel discovers more about the Jewish faith through her parents but primarily through clandestine arrangements made by Yonah with whom she falls in love. Unfortunately Isabel is betrothed to Luis, the son of the king and Queen's trusted advisor.
Fascinating in its subject matter, I found the book to be lacking in character development. It did impress me with the importance of faith in world history. ( )
  Mrs.DuBois | Feb 8, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Some locations and eras appear regularly in historical fiction - the US during the Civil War, the Midwest during the Dust Bowl Era, the British Isles in the medieval period, Europe during the Holocaust, the list goes on ... but seldom does it include Spain during the Inquisition.

In this first-person, chronological account, teenager Doña Isabel learns her family's deepest secret - her parents are not devout Catholics as she was raised to be. Secretly, they practice the Jewish faith - a practice punishable by death under the rule of Ferdinand and Isabella, and their Grand Inquisitor, Tomás de Torquemada. Set in Toledo, Spain, 1491, Isabel is the daughter of the King's physician, a position that has always kept the family in wealth and privilege. As the Inquisition grows more brutal, suspected heretics are forced to wear sambenitos (sackcloth), they are beaten, tortured, murdered, and burned alive at autos-da-fé.

"I looked around to keep awake. The church's walls were festooned with the sambenitos of the heretics who had been burned alive at the stake during different autos-de-fé.

"So many sambenitos," I whispered to Mama. "They should take them off the wall."

She rolled her eyes. "They are supposed to be reminders to the families of the condemned heretics. They are warnings to them not to follow in the footsteps of their relatives," she whispered. "They are a warning to us all."

Her words filled me with fear."

Her parents decide that to keep Isabel safe from the Inquisition, they will promise her in marriage to the son of the King and Queen's most trusted advisor. Luis is loathsome, however, and instead of Luis, Isabel falls in love with Yonah, a young Jewish silversmith, Soon the lives of the entire family are in danger.

If Isabel abandons her lifelong faith a little too easily and if Eva Wiseman paints Isabel's future a little too brightly, this is a small price to pay for a book suits an older, middle-grade audience and draws attention to a terrible period of religious persecution that is not often covered for this age group, grades 6 and up.

Spoiler:
Ironically (in light of today's current political, social and religious climate), Isabel and her family leave Spain counting Moorish refugees as their friends. Together they head to Morocco in search of freedom and a better life. How much has changed; and yet, how much remains the same. We learn so little.

Note:
My copy of The Last Song was provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers. I'm sorry that I did not get to it sooner.

http://shelfemployed.blogspot.com ( )
  shelf-employed | Feb 3, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book explores one family's life during the Spanish Inquisition. A heartfelt look at what it is like to live in fear of exposure during a time of strife for many people. I have read little on this subject so it was nice to have this part of history explained to me in such detail. I had no idea that Jews were a prime target during the Inquisition. This book opened my eyes to many things such as arranged marriages, buying passages to freedom, the treatment of slaves during this time period, and living in a time when even your closest friends can quickly become your enemies out of fear.

Anyone who is a fan of historical fiction will dive right into this book. I believe the author does an excellent job of depicting the time period and the atrocities which occurred during the time. The characters are delightfully realistic and you can't help but empathize with their situation. Living the story through Isabel gives the reader an inside look of the in decisions she faces as she struggles to understand her changing faith when her family history is revealed to her. The book is clean and reader friendly. An excellent read for all ages. ( )
  ShelleyDaugherty | Jan 17, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This ER Young Adult novel is about the life and times of a young teenager living in Toledo, Spain in 1491-2. Isabel is a good Catholic and her father is physician to the King and Queen of Spain. She finds out during the course of the story that her parents are in fact hidden Jews whose grandparents converted under the threat of death many years ago. Isabel learns about her Jewish heritage with the help of a young silversmith and his family. She is also betrothed to a young man who is brutal and cruel- her parents think that this marriage will protect her from the Inquisition.Unfortunately, her father is betrayed to the Inquisition just about the time that Spanish Jews are expelled from Spain. The adventures that Isabel undertakes to save her family and the revealing of who are friends and who are enemies make this novel exciting and very easy to follow for the young reader. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to any reader of Young Adult novels. ( )
  torontoc | Dec 28, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0887769799, Hardcover)

Spain had been one of the world’s most tolerant societies for eight hundred years, but that way of life was wiped out by the Inquisition. Isabel’s family feels safe from the terrors, torture, and burnings. After all, her father is a respected physician in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Isabel was raised as a Catholic and doesn’t know that her family’s Jewish roots may be a death sentence. When her father is arrested by Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, she makes a desperate plan to save his life – and her own.
 
Once again, master storyteller Eva Wiseman brings history to life in this riveting and tragic novel.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:28 -0400)

When the tolerant culture of Spain is shattered by the Inquisition, Isabel feels safe because of her Catholic upbringing and father's position as a respected doctor, until he is arrested for the family's secret Jewish heritage.

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