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Belle epoque



1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Delacorte Press, ©2013.
Physical Description:
327 pages ; 22 cm
Sixteen-year-old Maude Pichon, a plain, impoverished girl in Belle Epoque Paris, is hired by Countess Dubern to make her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, look more beautiful by comparison but soon Maude is enmeshed in a tangle of love, friendship, and deception.
Program Information:
Reading Counts 6-8 5.6 19.


Call Number

On Order



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.

A YASLA William C. Morris Award Finalist

A Junior Library Guild Selection

"Both touching and fun, this is a story about many things--true friendship, real beauty, being caught between two worlds--and it will delight fans of historical fiction."-- Publishers Weekly

"A refreshingly relevant and inspiring historical venture."-- Kirkus Reviews

"A compelling story about friendship, the complexity of beauty, and self-discovery...full of strong female characters."-- School Library Journal

"With resonant period detail, elegant narration, and a layered exploration of class and friendship, this provocative novel is rife with satisfaction."-- Booklist

"Much to offer a contemporary YA audience...flirtation and match-making to tantalize romance fans...prime book-club fare."-- The Bulletin

"This delectable Parisian tale left me sighting with sweet satisfaction. J'adore Belle Epoque !"-Sonya Sones, author of What My Mother Doesn't Know and To Be Perfectly Honest

Author Notes

Elizabeth Ross studied French at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and between semesters she worked in Paris and Brittany. She lives in Los Angeles. When she isn't writing, Elizabeth edits feature films. Visit her at elizabethrossbooks.com or follow @RossElizabeth on Twitter.

Reviews 5

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6-8-Inspired by Emile Zola's short story Les Repoussoirs, this debut novel takes place during the late 1800s. Maude Pichon, a runaway, discovers life in Paris to be crueler and much less romantic than she imagined from her country home in provincial Brittany. To get by, she takes a job as a repoussoir, a young woman hired for her ugliness and used to highlight the beauty of her patroness. Maude's first client is a challenge: a headstrong young woman named Isabel, who is unaware that Maude has been hired by her mother to act as Isabel's beauty foil. But as the lines of friendship are blurred by her responsibilities, what will Maude choose? Should she stay true to her friend at the expense of her career or continue to be the mother's puppet, potentially sacrificing Isabel's happiness? This is a compelling story about friendship, the complexity of beauty, and self-discovery. It is full of strong female characters driven by the pursuit of their dreams rather than pursuit of a husband, thus defying their societal roles. Maude's evolution and development are believable, and are the driving force of the plot. Her journey from the proletariat to the elite and back again gives readers a comprehensive picture of Parisian life during the Belle Epoque.-Tiffany O'Leary, Mount Saint Mary College, NY (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Sixteen-year-old runaway Maude Pichon is ugly-so much so that she lands a job as a "repoussoir," an unattractive girl paid to be seen with a lovelier girl to make her appear even more beautiful by comparison (in a note, Ross explains that this fictional profession derives from an 1866 Zola short story). Maude is humiliated by the idea, but her poverty leaves her few options. When chance sends a dashing composer Maude's way, and a countess hires her to befriend her independent-minded daughter, Isabelle, readers will see the potential for a happy ending. Ross offers not one, but two strong heroines in her debut novel, both navigating the choppy waters of the Paris debutante season, albeit from different social classes. Though Maude is the chief protagonist (and narrator), Isabelle is highly engaging as a young woman determined to challenge the expectations of her gender and study science at a university. Both touching and fun, this is a story about many things-true friendship, real beauty, being caught between two worlds-and it will delight fans of historical fiction. Ages 12-up. Agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

Maude's work for a French agency that provides unattractive companions to heighten the appearance of their socialite clients results in an unexpected friendship with a wealthy young woman and a deeper sense of personal aspiration. Ross provides interesting historical details about late-nineteenth-century Paris, but her two heroines behave like modern young women, and the pat conclusion isn't very convincing. (c) Copyright 2013. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

The aristocrats and the poor clash in 1888-9 Paris. Most Parisians dislike the new tower under construction by Monsieur Eiffel, but Maude, a 16-year-old who has run away from home, loves what others see as a monstrosity. Maude, too, is a monstrosity to some. A girl with no better than plain features, she nearly starves until she takes a job as a repoussoir. Wealthy women hire ugly women such as Maude to join them in public so that they will shine all the brighter in comparison. Countess Dubern hires Maude as a companion for her daughter Isabelle during the girl's first social season, with the expectation that Maude will steer Isabelle into an engagement with the handsome and wealthy Duke d'Avaray. Rebellious Isabelle intends to study science at the Sorbonne instead, refusing to marry. The two girls develop a real friendship, leaving Maude torn between her job and her loyalty to Isabelle. Ross models her plot on an 1866 story by Zola, "Les Repoussoirs," expanding its focus to highlight Maude's plight and using that to illuminate the chasm that existed between the wealthy and the poor. Maude, with her artistic insight, her pluck and her intelligence, despite her lack of formal education, perhaps comes across as a less-than-typical adolescent of that time but holds readers' interest throughout. A refreshingly relevant and inspiring historical venture. (Historical fiction. 12 up)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Maude, 16 and homeless, makes her way from provincial Brittany to Paris, determined to claim a place in its shimmering heart. But life at the close of the nineteenth century is hard. Maude struggles to make her way and soon finds herself a repoussoir at the Durandeau Agency, a plain girl rented out to the cream of society to make their own daughters shine in comparison. In no time, she is employed by a countess and attached to Isabelle, a debutante of surprising integrity. Maude is soon caught in a web of deceit, torn between her employer and her friend, between splendor and substance, and between reality and dreaming. She clings to the work that keeps her afloat, dazzled by the splendor of society and intrigued by Isabelle's secret plans for university, all the while tamping down her own, growing hopes for a small piece of happiness that just might include Paul, a floppy, charming bohemian musician. With resonant period detail, elegant narration, and a layered exploration of class and friendship, this provocative novel is ripe with satisfaction.--Barthelmess, Thom Copyright 2010 Booklist