Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross
Book Summary: When Maude Pichon runs away from provincial Brittany to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Desperate for work, she answers an unusual ad. The Durandeau Agency provides its clients with a unique service--the beauty foil. Hire a plain friend and become instantly more attractive. Monsieur Durandeau has made a fortune from wealthy socialites, and when the Countess Dubern needs a companion for her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, Maude is deemed the perfect adornment of plainness. Isabelle has no idea her new "friend" is the hired help, and Maude's very existence among the aristocracy hinges on her keeping the truth a secret. Yet the more she learns about Isabelle, the more her loyalty is tested. And the longer her deception continues, the more she has to lose. Inspired by a short story written by Emile Zola, Belle Epoque is set at the height of bohemian Paris, when the city was at the peak of decadence, men and women were at their most beautiful, and morality was at its most depraved.
My thoughts: This book was different but very good. It gave some good insight into the French age known as the Belle Epoque meaning literally "Beautiful Age". This name was given in France to the period from roughly the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1871) to the start of World War 1 (1914), in which standards of living and security for the upper and middle classes increased, leading to it retrospectively being labelled as a golden age by them. Equates loosely to the “Gilded Age” of the USA, and can be used in reference to other western and central European countries for the same period and reasons (e.g. Germany).
This age also placed an increased value on physical beauty and was a major theme in this book. You couldn't help but feel for those in this era who were not seen as "beautiful". I would very much recommend this book. Both touching and fun, this is a story about many things—true friendship, real beauty, and being caught between two worlds.
Awards: A YASLA William C. Morris Award Finalist
A Junior Library Guild Selection
A RITBA (Rhode Island Teen Book Award) nominee for 2015