cover image Belladonna


Anbara Salam. Berkley, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-09934-6

Set in the late 1950s, Salam’s arresting U.S. debut centers on the relationship between dazzling, wealthy Isabella Crowley and smart yet socially inept Bridget Ryan. They meet as juniors in a Connecticut Catholic high school, where Isabella, a newcomer, is caught playing a game called Dead Nun. Bridget is infatuated with Isabella, and falsely claims she put Isabella up to it, finding favor as a result. The other girls then pretend to overlook Bridget’s Egyptian, “foreign” mother and perpetually ill sister, Rhona. After Bridget and Isabella are accepted into an exchange program at an Italian academy for their senior year, Bridget’s overwhelming desire to have Isabella to herself momentarily comes true, yet Isabella holds the power even after Bridget kisses her (“a ribbon spun through my body and I stiffened, daring myself not to breathe and give away the rippling feeling”). Bridget returns home shortly after arriving in Italy, though, to be with Rhona, who suffered a heart attack, and the Ryan family is horrified at the doctor’s request to study Rhona’s “mixed heritage.”After Rhona is discharged and Bridget returns to Italy, Bridget disapproves of Isabella’s new friendship with a young nun, with whom she spitefully shares compromising information about Isabella. The tender, exquisite prose brilliantly captures the feelings and fault lines in the girls’ friendship. This is a discerning look at secret infatuation and racial prejudice. (June)

Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly stated this is the author's first book. It is in fact the author's first book to be published in America.