cover image The Lace Dowry

The Lace Dowry

Andrea Cheng, . . Front Street, $16.95 (148pp) ISBN 978-1-932425-20-8

Like Cheng's earlier novels (Marika ; Honeysuckle House ), this smoothly told tale was inspired by her own family's history. Set in 1933 Budapest, the novel centers on 12-year-old narrator Juli, whose mother commissions a lace maker in the countryside to stitch a tablecloth for her daughter's dowry. The woman has saved since Juli's birth in order to purchase "the biggest, most beautiful lace in the world" so that Juli can attract a suitable husband. Yet Juli, an avid reader who wants nothing more than a kitten, has no interest in a dowry or a husband; instead she wants to become a farmer or a veterinarian. Through Juli's visits with her mother to the lace maker, and her friendship with Roza, the stitcher's daughter, the author conveys the contrast between life on the farm and in the city. Juli witnesses the hardship of the lace maker's life as the woman's health begins to wane from her detailed work, and Roza stops attending school to help her mother. In a stretch of credibility, Juli's favorite kitten from Roza's cat's litter shows up at her Budapest building, providing comfort to the girl as she grapples with the discrepancy between her own goals and her mother's aspirations for her. Cheng convincingly depicts Juli's struggle to both connect with and to detach from her mother, and nimbly weaves bits of Hungarian lore into her story. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)