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An evocative, atmospheric story of friendship and obsession set in the 1950s that follows two schoolgirls from Connecticut whose lives are changed forever when they travel to a silent convent in northern Italy to study art for a year Isabella is beautiful, inscrutable, and popular. Her best friend, Bridget, keeps quietly to the fringes of their Connecticut Catholic school, An evocative, atmospheric story of friendship and obsession set in the 1950s that follows two schoolgirls from Connecticut whose lives are changed forever when they travel to a silent convent in northern Italy to study art for a year Isabella is beautiful, inscrutable, and popular. Her best friend, Bridget, keeps quietly to the fringes of their Connecticut Catholic school, watching everything and everyone, but most especially Isabella. In 1957, when the girls graduate, they land coveted spots at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Pentila in northern Italy, a prestigious art history school in the grounds of a silent convent. There, free of her claustrophobic home and the town that will always see her and her Egyptian mother as outsiders, Bridget discovers she can re-invent herself as anyone she desires. Only Isabella knows the real Bridget, just as Bridget knows the true Isabella. But as that glittering year goes on, Bridget begins to suspect Isabella is keeping secrets from her, secrets that will ruin all of her plans and that will change the course of their lives forever.


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An evocative, atmospheric story of friendship and obsession set in the 1950s that follows two schoolgirls from Connecticut whose lives are changed forever when they travel to a silent convent in northern Italy to study art for a year Isabella is beautiful, inscrutable, and popular. Her best friend, Bridget, keeps quietly to the fringes of their Connecticut Catholic school, An evocative, atmospheric story of friendship and obsession set in the 1950s that follows two schoolgirls from Connecticut whose lives are changed forever when they travel to a silent convent in northern Italy to study art for a year Isabella is beautiful, inscrutable, and popular. Her best friend, Bridget, keeps quietly to the fringes of their Connecticut Catholic school, watching everything and everyone, but most especially Isabella. In 1957, when the girls graduate, they land coveted spots at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Pentila in northern Italy, a prestigious art history school in the grounds of a silent convent. There, free of her claustrophobic home and the town that will always see her and her Egyptian mother as outsiders, Bridget discovers she can re-invent herself as anyone she desires. Only Isabella knows the real Bridget, just as Bridget knows the true Isabella. But as that glittering year goes on, Bridget begins to suspect Isabella is keeping secrets from her, secrets that will ruin all of her plans and that will change the course of their lives forever.

30 review for Belladonna

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

    I love a coming-of-age story! Belladonna is the tale of two friends living in Connecticut in the 1950s. They move to Italy to study art while living in a convent. They are the yin and yang of friends. Isabella is the outgoing, popular one, while the reserved Bridget is often in her shadow. It is there, at the convent, that Bridget opens up and finds herself, feeling more comfortable in who she is. Somewhere along the way, Bridget discovers Isabella is keeping some dark secrets, and it’s unclear ho I love a coming-of-age story! Belladonna is the tale of two friends living in Connecticut in the 1950s. They move to Italy to study art while living in a convent. They are the yin and yang of friends. Isabella is the outgoing, popular one, while the reserved Bridget is often in her shadow. It is there, at the convent, that Bridget opens up and finds herself, feeling more comfortable in who she is. Somewhere along the way, Bridget discovers Isabella is keeping some dark secrets, and it’s unclear how they could affect them both. Salam transports the reader to Italy in the 1950s. Bridget is truly at the center of this novel, and she is of Egyptian heritage, which she hides, something she’s feels judged for constantly. She wants nothing more than to fit in, and Isabella takes advantage of her, while Bridget continues to obsess over Isabella and their friendship. Overall, I found Belladonna to be an angsty, emotional coming-of-age story. I wanted more for Bridget, and I was along for the ride, rooting for her. I received a gifted copy. All opinions are my own. Many of my reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com and instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    This is a ‘coming-of-age’ story in the 1950’s. From a prestigious Catholic High School in Connecticut... to a prestigious Art History school - ‘di Belle Arti di Pentila’ in Northern Italy - on the grounds of a silent convent.... we follow two friends: Bridget and Isabella. Bridget feels like an outsider. She wants to fit in. She desperately wants the friendship of Isabella, who is beautiful and popular. I was hoping that I might enjoy this book in the same way I did the Neapolitan novels by Elena F This is a ‘coming-of-age’ story in the 1950’s. From a prestigious Catholic High School in Connecticut... to a prestigious Art History school - ‘di Belle Arti di Pentila’ in Northern Italy - on the grounds of a silent convent.... we follow two friends: Bridget and Isabella. Bridget feels like an outsider. She wants to fit in. She desperately wants the friendship of Isabella, who is beautiful and popular. I was hoping that I might enjoy this book in the same way I did the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante. I didn’t. The writing was ordinary—lacking intoxicating sensory feelings. It was surprisingly flat, bland, unforgettable- more dull than any novel I’ve read in years. Cringeworthy! I became more intrigued and curious about ‘the lack’ of scrumptious, zesty, sentences than the characters- or their enmeshed friendships. I was actually a little in ‘awe’ that maybe? — the writing was chosen - for boredom- for a reason? A puzzle for this reader. Bridget wanted to be close to Isabella. Isabella had invented a game called ‘Dead Nun’ at a sleepover- where the last girl silent won. Isabella always won. Bridget’s job was to count Mississippis. Partly because she was pretending to be dead but mostly she was never actually invited to join the girl’s game. Bridget’s job was to watch the girls lying still. Bridget admitted it wasn’t much of a Friday night < (dull fun-Friday-night: I added this-remark-not the author )... but regardless, Bridget, appreciated the game because it gave her a chance to be close to Isabella.... “To observe how she wrinkled her nose when Sophie LeBaron giggled and spluttered. To cheer her when she rose victorious from the floor, red-faced and clammy, her pulse beating in the hollow of her throat”. Throughout this entire novel, Anbara Salam created cringing images. It became all I could see. “My heart pulsed so painfully it throbbed in my jawbone”. “A strand of hair fell into her mouth and she yanked it out”. “She put her hands in her pockets, and her eyes traveled over me slowly, a careful-evaluation. My stomach coiled into a rope”. “My throat burned. I wished, suddenly, I could flip myself inside out, like a magicians hat”. “I smiled at her and made what seemed like the right noises”. “I wished again I could knock myself inside out, that I could nullify myself utterly”, “Their happiness was so unfair I felt quivering in every muscle”. “Their happiness was just beginning. And I had nothing. It was the same sunken feeling from the trip to Rome, the day I had watched smiling families eating pasta and I stood on the street, unnoticed”. “The barb landed in my throat, hard and sour as a beesting”. The shimmer of hope I had for this book being intoxicatingly passionate, psychologically engrossing, original..... about the messy complexity of female friendship, was more like watching a sinking ship. Read other positive reviews. Other readers have found this book to be wonderfully beautiful and satisfying. Much appreciation to the publisher, Netgalley, and author. No hard feelings I hope - I simply was the wrong-reader match for this novel.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Arterbery

    How far will you go to make someone love you? ***Thank you to Berkley, Penguin Random for sending me an early electronic copy of this book for review!*** This book is probably one of the most beautifully written pieces of women's fiction that I've read in a while. Salam is a very gifted writer in that she's able to put the reader in whatever scene she's created. I've only been to Italy once in life, but through Salam's pretty prose, I feel like I've been there all over again. Sigh. Anyways, to th How far will you go to make someone love you? ***Thank you to Berkley, Penguin Random for sending me an early electronic copy of this book for review!*** This book is probably one of the most beautifully written pieces of women's fiction that I've read in a while. Salam is a very gifted writer in that she's able to put the reader in whatever scene she's created. I've only been to Italy once in life, but through Salam's pretty prose, I feel like I've been there all over again. Sigh. Anyways, to the plot: The story takes place in the late 1950's and is all about a young woman named Bridget who wants so bad to fit in with her friends thanks to her mixed heritage of Egyptian. Salam writes the entire novel from Bridget's point of view, which I liked but could be kind of confusing at times. For example, she brings up her sister, Rhona, who appears to be ill and it isn't until the end of the book that I figure out what her illness is but I'm still really not sure because Bridget never just comes out and says it. Bridget becomes obsessed with a girl named Isabella and wants nothing more in life than to be her best friend. She gave me all kinds of "Single White Female" vibes in the ways she described her fierce love for Isabella, who is always coming up with some type of mischief for them to get into. Isabella arrives to school after fighting a bout of malaria. Her life seems to be rooted in more myth than actual reality. We don't know exactly where she came from, and later the reader realizes that she suffers from something more than malaria (if that's even what it really was). No matter because Bridget is so hell bent on being Isabella's best friend that it didn't matter what Isabella did or said. After graduating from their all-girls Catholic high school in Connecticut, both girls are accepted into a prestigious art history school in Italy for a year-long program. It's here that the bulk of the story takes place. Bridget tells no one about her mixed ancestry in her efforts to fit in and works even harder to win over Isabella's friendship. Her fierce desire to fit in made me cringe at times and Isabella's behavior reminded me of a narcissistic man in the way she seemed to take advantage of Bridget's love for her. By the time I finished reading the novel, I was grateful to myself for never being one that desperately needed another's attention. Salam has written a fantastic summer read and I look forward to reading more of her books in the future.

  4. 5 out of 5

    The Artisan Geek

    28/2/20 Aah! Northern Italy and the exploration of these two female characters, sounds so good! I'm really excited to read this one and so happy I found this during my book scavenging hunt in London :) You can find me on Youtube | Instagram | Twitter | Tumblr | Website 28/2/20 Aah! Northern Italy and the exploration of these two female characters, sounds so good! I'm really excited to read this one and so happy I found this during my book scavenging hunt in London :) You can find me on Youtube | Instagram | Twitter | Tumblr | Website

  5. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

    Belladonna explores the relationship between two young women - Bridget and Isabella. Seen through Bridget's adoring eyes, Isabella is sophisticated and mature compared to the other girls at their school. She's the sort of girl who effortlessly becomes the centre of attention. Conversely, Bridget is an outsider with a home life that she is anxious to conceal. In search of acceptance and a sense of belonging, not least because of her mixed race heritage that makes her the object of insidious racis Belladonna explores the relationship between two young women - Bridget and Isabella. Seen through Bridget's adoring eyes, Isabella is sophisticated and mature compared to the other girls at their school. She's the sort of girl who effortlessly becomes the centre of attention. Conversely, Bridget is an outsider with a home life that she is anxious to conceal. In search of acceptance and a sense of belonging, not least because of her mixed race heritage that makes her the object of insidious racism, Bridget cherishes "the luxury of hope" that Isabella will become her friend. Always alert for small signs of Isabella's favour - a glance, a word, a gesture - Bridget is overjoyed when Isabella returns her affection. Even better, there is the prospect of them spending time together studying art along with a group of other girls at the Accademia, housed in the convent of an order of silent nuns in northern Italy. Arriving first at the Accademia, Bridget feels protective towards Isabella, wondering how the other girls will regard her. "Isabella had such a certain kind of boldness, it was hard to tell how the other girls would take to her. How much she would be hated, or loved." The fact Bridget imagines Isabella provoking such extreme emotions and not anything in between is in subtle contrast to the quiet restraint exhibited by the nuns. As term starts, the author really captures the atmosphere of a boarding school-like situation: the petty jealousy, the cliques, the strained friendships, the fallings out over perceived small slights. The reader witnesses how Bridget continually tries to anticipate Isabella's changing moods, taking heart from small acts of kindness, even relishing being the only one who can understand Isabella's quirks and then pondering on things she's afraid she might have said wrong. The nuanced depiction of the relationship between the young women was one I found fascinating and thought-provoking. I came to think that perhaps Isabella was more dependent on Bridget than Bridget supposed and that Bridget undervalued herself. As the reader witnesses through her dealings with others, Bridget is kind, witty, patient, a keen student. People like her. However, her desire to retain Isabella's affections - 'I'd have to be more interesting, more delightful' - when they seem to be directed elsewhere leads to a series of actions that will have unforseen consequences. In the end, there is a sense of betrayal on both sides. One of the things I loved about the book was the way the effect of the changing seasons on the landscape surrounding the Academy was described. For example, arriving there for the first time in August, Bridget notices the fields "strumming with cicadas in jouncing waves of noise, the air gritty with toasted grass". Conversely, in winter, "The wind was sharp and sought out vulnerable skin to slice, slamming unseen doors, whistling frosty arias in the courtyard." The arrival of spring is marked by the plum trees in the orchards surrounding the convent springing into blossom so that, "The hills around the lake were a mantle of pink and white, a flurry of pastels and silk that flew in the air and settled on the water." Belladonna is an acutely-observed exploration of the dynamics of a relationship. As Bridget learns, "Setting your heart on something doesn't mean it's a good idea... No matter how much you want it" and that "Sometimes love isn't enough."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Crystal Zavala

    2.5⭐ rounded up to 3⭐ It is the late 1950s in Connecticut and Bridget is a the younger daughter of two girls born to a white father and an Egyptian mother. Bridget feels like she is the outsider in her small Catholic School because of her mother and her older sister's mysterious illness. Bridget is absolutely fascinated by her classmate, Isabella, and can always be founds lingering at the edge of social circles, hoping that Isabella will be her friend. After high school, Bridget and Isabella are b 2.5⭐ rounded up to 3⭐ It is the late 1950s in Connecticut and Bridget is a the younger daughter of two girls born to a white father and an Egyptian mother. Bridget feels like she is the outsider in her small Catholic School because of her mother and her older sister's mysterious illness. Bridget is absolutely fascinated by her classmate, Isabella, and can always be founds lingering at the edge of social circles, hoping that Isabella will be her friend. After high school, Bridget and Isabella are both chosen to attend a prestigious art history school in Northern Italy. Bridget loves that she can pretend to be whoever she wants while away at school. And Isabella seems to be willing to play along with Bridget as she reinvents herself. I really wanted to love this book. However, it came across as too immature for me. Possibly, it would have been marketed as YA or New Adult. We never really figured out what illness Bridget's sister had, even though I think I figured it out. And it wasn't clear whether or not people where really judging her mother for being Egyptian. Bridget's insecurity seemed to overshadow reality and that really turned me off. I prefer to read about strong women.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jackie

    I won this in a goodreads giveaway. Wasn’t my type of book but many others seemed to have liked it!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Anneliese Grassi

    We follow two girls through their final years in Catholic school where one is extremely popular (Isabella) and the other wants nothing more than to be popular or just be her friend (Bridget). Bridget feels that she isn’t accepted because she is “mixed”, Egyptian mom, European father. After graduation these same two girls go abroad to a “prestigious art history school” set in a silent convent. Here the roles are reversed and Bridget thrives, all the while keeping her family life hidden by lies to We follow two girls through their final years in Catholic school where one is extremely popular (Isabella) and the other wants nothing more than to be popular or just be her friend (Bridget). Bridget feels that she isn’t accepted because she is “mixed”, Egyptian mom, European father. After graduation these same two girls go abroad to a “prestigious art history school” set in a silent convent. Here the roles are reversed and Bridget thrives, all the while keeping her family life hidden by lies to avoid having to explain. Isabella is wild and carefree and Bridget is very self-centered only ever thinking of herself, including lying about her sick sister. Honestly, this book had so much potential with good ideas but it all seemed very surface to me never really getting deep on anything. What was the sister’s illness? What was the story on the parents? What was Isabella’s backstory? There was so much thought and detail put into describing the surroundings or painting a picture of the scene, which is fine, but why not build that on the characters. I did not connect with any of the people in the book and thought about not finishing it multiple times. 😔. Again, it had a lot of potential but just didn’t really do it for me. I won this book/ARC in a Goodreads Giveaway.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Phyllis Krall

    A story of unrequited love and obsession in a young girl’s life in the 1950’s. Set in a convent in Northern Italy in the beautiful countryside. Bridget meets Isabella in the Catholic high school they both attend in Connecticut. Both girls are chosen to attend a prestigious art history school in Italy after graduation. Bridget is smitten with Isabella and tries her hardest to be her best friend and be accepted. Bridget always feels she is on the outskirts of the popular crowd because of her Egypti A story of unrequited love and obsession in a young girl’s life in the 1950’s. Set in a convent in Northern Italy in the beautiful countryside. Bridget meets Isabella in the Catholic high school they both attend in Connecticut. Both girls are chosen to attend a prestigious art history school in Italy after graduation. Bridget is smitten with Isabella and tries her hardest to be her best friend and be accepted. Bridget always feels she is on the outskirts of the popular crowd because of her Egyptian mother. At the convent, her fascination for Isabella intensifies which causes her to lie and do things she never would have done before. She is devastated when she discovers Isabella’s secret which causes everything in her life to change. I received this Ebook from Goodreads in exchange for an honest review. It is beautifully written in Bridget’s voice as she expresses her thoughts and feelings at the convent. I was transported to the beautiful countryside of Italy and the convent where the girls studied. Highly recommended

  10. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    I was attracted to this book for many reasons -- the biracial/bicultural characters, the Italian setting, and the story of a friendship. The language is lush and worth savoring, and the story itself is unusual and unpredictable. Just when I thought I knew how things would turn out, Salam took them in a different, more nuanced direction. Brava to her!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Alina Karapandzich

    I would give this a solid 4 maybe even a 4.5. Not a lot of action per se but a lot of intrigue and the characters were interesting but I wanted more in-depth development from them. The author I feel like sacrificed character depth for the sake of keeping things mysterious/vague. I appreciated the attention to detail especially with setting descriptions and the inner thoughts of the main character.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Chrisreadsbooks

    I was bored at first, then I got very involved as the main character became more and more evil, then the end sort of petered out a bit.

  13. 4 out of 5

    oohlalabooks

    This is a coming of age novel set in the 1950s about two young adults - Isabella, is beautiful, inscrutable, and popular. Her best friend, Bridget, is shy & reserved. They graduate high school and are accepted into a prestigious program in northern Italy, the Accademia di Belle Arti di Pentila. This touches on friendships, maturity, catholic school, and cultures. Thank you to Berkley Publishing and Goodreads for an ebook ARC. This is my honest review. This is a coming of age novel set in the 1950s about two young adults - Isabella, is beautiful, inscrutable, and popular. Her best friend, Bridget, is shy & reserved. They graduate high school and are accepted into a prestigious program in northern Italy, the Accademia di Belle Arti di Pentila. This touches on friendships, maturity, catholic school, and cultures. Thank you to Berkley Publishing and Goodreads for an ebook ARC. This is my honest review.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Siobhan

    Belladonna is a story of obsession, friendship, and desire set at an Academy that is connected to a convent in Northern Italy. In Connecticut in 1956, Bridget desperately wants to be Isabella's friend, and to study at the Academy together. The Academy is where a small group of American girls learn Italian and art history, lodging in a convent with nuns who've taken a vow of silence, and Bridget sees this as her chance to be close to Isabella. The following year, they both start there, and they d Belladonna is a story of obsession, friendship, and desire set at an Academy that is connected to a convent in Northern Italy. In Connecticut in 1956, Bridget desperately wants to be Isabella's friend, and to study at the Academy together. The Academy is where a small group of American girls learn Italian and art history, lodging in a convent with nuns who've taken a vow of silence, and Bridget sees this as her chance to be close to Isabella. The following year, they both start there, and they do grow close, but Bridget stays desperate for Isabella's affection, as well as keeping up lies about her own family, and she'll resort to anything to keep Isabella close. This is a very vividly imagined novel, bringing to life the closed off world of the Academy, its petty dramas, and Bridget's love for Isabella. It looks at the inability to see the wider picture, or to realise that you cannot only plan for the immediate moments, which works well with a group of fairly self obsessed teenagers. The retro setting is important for the general aesthetic and for the narrative (considering half of the girls are engaged), but it also has a sense of being outside of time because of them being in the Academy amongst the nuns. The vibe and setting (and the obsession theme) make it easy to compare to The Talented Mr Ripley, but this is more of a coming of age novel, as Bridget learns that just being obsessed with and manipulating circumstances to be with Isabella doesn't convert into being able to be Isabella's sole focus. Some people will love the aesthetic and lingering feel of the novel, whilst others will perhaps find the characters too unlikeable or immature, but this is a look at female friendships and desire, and what it takes to be a particular person, that makes a good immersive read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sue Stearns

    I received an ARC of this book. I’m sorry to say I really didn’t enjoy this book. To me, there wasn’t much of a story line..Bridget wanted Isabella. It seemed quite childish, more like young teens. Also, there were so many descriptions of everything, relevant or not. The second half of the book was better but overall needs more depth and polish. Just not for me...sorry ☹️

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rayna

    Belladonna is a character-driven story, told from the first-person perspective of an American teenage girl at an art academy in Italy. Bridget is sympathetic in the beginning. She's the daughter of an Egyptian mother and a white English father, and although Bridget herself is white-passing, she is ashamed of her mother because this is the racist 1950s. At the academy Bridget is determined to hide her mixed-race heritage, wanting so much to fit in and be liked by the other girls that she lies abo Belladonna is a character-driven story, told from the first-person perspective of an American teenage girl at an art academy in Italy. Bridget is sympathetic in the beginning. She's the daughter of an Egyptian mother and a white English father, and although Bridget herself is white-passing, she is ashamed of her mother because this is the racist 1950s. At the academy Bridget is determined to hide her mixed-race heritage, wanting so much to fit in and be liked by the other girls that she lies about her family background. She is in love with her best friend, the beautiful and charismatic Isabella. But as time goes on, Bridget's increasingly deceptive and underhanded behaviour made me loathe her. The Italian setting is vivid so you can easily picture the academy, the convent, the nuns, the orchards, and the lake. But the author has a really odd writing style that blunts the effectiveness of her writing. The sideboard was now stacked with a tasteful display of arthritic, formal gifts: a rosary, a silver carriage clock, a bottle of wine to be set aside. Arthritic? What? The joints in the gifts have become inflamed? Her pulse was beating through her lips and in the arc of her neck, where her heartbeat fluttered. My pulse swirled through my eardrums. My heartbeat skittered into the arches of my feet. Salam sounds like an alien entity trying to imagine what it feels like to have a human circulatory system. Anbara, if you're reading this, the best places to feel a pulse are the ones where arteries are located close to the skin. I wish Salam had given Isabella POV chapters. Seeing her perspective would have enriched the book, especially because she is seen only through the eyes of Bridget, an unreliable narrator. Isabella's aloof and erratic behaviour made it hard to sympathise with her at first. I wanted to see how Isabella became friends with Sister Teresa and how that changed them both. Still, it was nice to see the female friendships in this book between the different characters and the way they supported each other. Bridget even manages to simmer down her obsession with Isabella enough to make friends with the other girls. This book is like a cautionary tale about what not to do when you love someone and want to keep them in your life. Bridget is confused and upset when Isabella no longer responds to her flirtations, and she resorts to snooping, stalking, lies, and manipulation in her desperation to keep Isabella close to her. Bridget's refusal to take responsibility for her own actions and lack of regard for her friend's happiness made me hope she would get her comeuppance and be forced to confront the choices she made. So it's very satisfying in the end when (view spoiler)[Isabella and Rosaria get to be happy and run away together, and Bridget is left heartbroken and alone like she deserves (hide spoiler)] .

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lu

    This is Salem’s debut novel and it is thought provoking. She has an excellent “ear” for adolescent dialogue. She understands the female weaponry of what can be said and what is often left unsaid or implied between girls. The story opens in an upscale Connecticut Catholic girl’s school in the late fifties. These young ladies are being polished to pick up the mantles of their mothers as society matrons. Their status standings are mainly determined by their furs, family finances, party invitations, This is Salem’s debut novel and it is thought provoking. She has an excellent “ear” for adolescent dialogue. She understands the female weaponry of what can be said and what is often left unsaid or implied between girls. The story opens in an upscale Connecticut Catholic girl’s school in the late fifties. These young ladies are being polished to pick up the mantles of their mothers as society matrons. Their status standings are mainly determined by their furs, family finances, party invitations, summer homes and which college their boyfriends attend. Beauty is a factor, intelligence to a lesser degree. Bridget Ryan sits on the lower outer fringe of this very stratified world. She has all the credentials but she has mixed Europe and Egyptian heritage. She feels her key to popularity is Isabelle, a free spirited girl who pushes the envelope. Bridget courts Isabelle. She is a moon which can only reflect the glory of Isabelle’s sun. When she learns Isabelle is planing to finish her education at an art history academy in Italy. Bridget studies hard to win the second available placement. In Italy, Isabelle allows Bridget to divest her troublesome African background. She doesn’t revel her secrets , accepting in payment Bridget’s worshipful and sometimes sensual love. As I read this book I caught myself remembering Knowles, “A Separate Peace” in particular, the tone of the times and the slavish adoration of the popular character and subsequent jealousy. I also picked up shades of Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye”. Bridget’s growing frustration with the “phony’ version of herself. She even tries to define herself sexually through Isabelle, but she finds only disappointment. She loathes the false varnish, yet she can’t cast it away. Until ....well until. I was annoyed by two small flaws in the historical integrity of the book. The author describes a sweater a girl picks up at a garage sale - no such thing in this time period. It could have been a hand-me-down, but wealthy people gave used clothing to charity. The second is the incessant smoking in the book. EVERYONE smokes all the time everywhere. Women smoking was not as pervasive as portrayed in the book. Plus - at the end of the book the girls use the curse word fuck. Again, that seems very out of place.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dani Walker

    I was recommended this book based on my previous prefences, I admit that it does have the thing I usually enjoy but I felt as though there was so much to work with so much to be revealed, the build up of a scandal... but no reveal. It was a coming of age novel set in the late 50s at an academy in Italy where young American girls can attend and stay in a beautiful convent filled with silent nuns. The girls all appear to be quite upper class and do well at academics so all they have to do is drink I was recommended this book based on my previous prefences, I admit that it does have the thing I usually enjoy but I felt as though there was so much to work with so much to be revealed, the build up of a scandal... but no reveal. It was a coming of age novel set in the late 50s at an academy in Italy where young American girls can attend and stay in a beautiful convent filled with silent nuns. The girls all appear to be quite upper class and do well at academics so all they have to do is drink wine, chatter about their boyfriends back home and sunbathe... Characters: Bridgette is the protagonist and she starts off as a shy girl desperate for the approval of a new, interesting and popular girl named Isabella. Bridgette has anxiety and she seems to be incredibly clingy and also ashamed of her Egyptian heritage. She tells a lot of lies about her background to fit in and is so desperate for the approval of Isabella it seems to dominate everything she does until she forgets Isabella actually has her own life outside of her and starts to manipulate her in small ways. Isabella is a spoilt girl who knows she stands out everywhere she goes, she knows how to keep people's obsessions with her and at the same time making herself emotionally unavailable. She doesn't seem to genuinely care about Brigette but enjoys stringing her along often by kissing her at random moments and then going back to persuing her own interests. Sister Teresa had the potential to be such an interesting character and it is her involvement in the story that creates the scandal but she got a few words in and that was it. Overall? Isabella and Bridgette made for a toxic, co-dependent relationship that had no closure whatsoever and left Bridgette in a sort of sad limbo. Sister Teresa and Isabella's relationship could've been a scandal that would've made a great climax for the book alongside Bridgettes own lies exposed but it always just buried so easily and we are to assume it all just worked out easily??

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jayne Anderson

    This is very different to my usual read and I was really looking forward to reading this but it felt like there was something missing. The author did a great job of placing the characters in Italy and I almost felt I was there tasting and savouring the sounds and tastes. The convent was beautifully described and I imagined myself walking down the corridors with the characters and entering the old and historic chapel. Reading the synopsis of this book I assumed that I would love Bridget and hate This is very different to my usual read and I was really looking forward to reading this but it felt like there was something missing. The author did a great job of placing the characters in Italy and I almost felt I was there tasting and savouring the sounds and tastes. The convent was beautifully described and I imagined myself walking down the corridors with the characters and entering the old and historic chapel. Reading the synopsis of this book I assumed that I would love Bridget and hate Isabella however I found that I actually warmed to neither of the character’s. The characters were very complex and multi-layered and I found myself both liking them sometimes but then they would flip and behave in an unexpected way and I would instantly dislike them again. Isabella. Was very much a controlling character. She needed to be in charge and she needed people to love her. If someone behaved in a way that she didn’t like, or if she found herself not at the very centre of the situation she would easily manipulate the other characters to suit her very needs. Bridget on the other hand was the shrinking Violet. Her family had their own demons and secrets that she tried not to be revealed. She adored Isabella and went out of her way to ensure that they were seen as best friends. Isabella knew that and played this to her advantage as and when it suited. This book is very well written and flowed easily enough but for me there was not a strong enough storyline to keep me engaged. Having said that I have seen a huge amount of reviews from people loving this book so I think it is a case of this book doesn’t just gel with my tastes. I would like to thank Jane Gentle at Penguin Random House for my ARC.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. SPOILERS! This one left me pretty shattered. Good writing and super angsty. I'd give it a 5 star if it didn't make me so depressed and remind me of some of my own terrible life situations. I'd definitely read this author again. I don't think I will soon forget this story since the characters were so realistic and it was easy to become invested in them. This is the kind of book that if I had found it when I was 16 I would be completely obsessed with it. Other reviewers mention the main characters b SPOILERS! This one left me pretty shattered. Good writing and super angsty. I'd give it a 5 star if it didn't make me so depressed and remind me of some of my own terrible life situations. I'd definitely read this author again. I don't think I will soon forget this story since the characters were so realistic and it was easy to become invested in them. This is the kind of book that if I had found it when I was 16 I would be completely obsessed with it. Other reviewers mention the main characters being too simple or too childish but these are high school girls from the 1950s so that's exactly what the characters should be like. Isabella was so interesting. All of her responses seemed veiled at all times. Due to this, I found myself wishing we'd been in her perspective, especially once I got to the ending. If the author would consider writing some of that, even for fun, I would love to read it. There is nothing but an endless well of gay stories with unhappy endings but this was done really well. The friendship was engrossing and the struggle was relatable and real. To me the ending was absolutely brutal since I've been in that place before. I want to know why Isabella turned so completely cold but when I imagine them in that last scene together I see a lot translated through body language and facial expressions and it does make sense that Isabella would feel the need to choose a life. I've definitely had a "breakup" like this. Where it shouldn't feel like the end of the world but it most certainly is. The pining throughout the book really made this ending burn. I WOULD LOVE A SEQUEL! Thank you so much for writing!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    What we have here is a failure to fulfill. Bridget, thanks to her half Egyptian, half white blood, struggles to find her place in her Connecticut Catholic school. When she and Isabella, one of the school's stars, head to Italy after graduating to study art (at a convent where the nuns tend to be silent), Bridget hopes that she can start fresh. Isabella seems interested in a friendship, and maybe no one needs to know Bridget's background. So what could have been the story of how a girl's desperat What we have here is a failure to fulfill. Bridget, thanks to her half Egyptian, half white blood, struggles to find her place in her Connecticut Catholic school. When she and Isabella, one of the school's stars, head to Italy after graduating to study art (at a convent where the nuns tend to be silent), Bridget hopes that she can start fresh. Isabella seems interested in a friendship, and maybe no one needs to know Bridget's background. So what could have been the story of how a girl's desperation to connect and to be something affects her relationships instead turns into something more dull and rote. Bridget's coming-of-age is reduced and distilled to a rather uninteresting plot of a very close friendship that turns out to be not as close as Bridget would have liked. You might be frustrated by the lack of development of Isabella and some of the other supporting characters. You're told just enough about Isabella that your curiosity is piqued. If nothing else, she's far more interesting than Bridget, but ultimately she becomes one-note and flat. I wanted to like this book. I love its title, I love its cover, I love its blurb. But I couldn't get past the opportunities Anbara Salam passed up to make this more compelling. Facebook ● Twitter ● Instagram

  22. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    Bridget is a high school student who lives mostly in her head, an outsider, and doesn’t fit in at her Catholic school in Connecticut. Isabella is beautiful, sometimes mysterious, and often defiant of rules. The two girls couldn’t be more different. When Isabella begins making friend overtures toward Bridget, Bridget is delighted and hopeful of being included in the rich-girl’s cliques. They both are accepted into a program to study art centered in a nunnery in Italy. The author’s storyline, while Bridget is a high school student who lives mostly in her head, an outsider, and doesn’t fit in at her Catholic school in Connecticut. Isabella is beautiful, sometimes mysterious, and often defiant of rules. The two girls couldn’t be more different. When Isabella begins making friend overtures toward Bridget, Bridget is delighted and hopeful of being included in the rich-girl’s cliques. They both are accepted into a program to study art centered in a nunnery in Italy. The author’s storyline, while not entirely unique, could have been so much more than it ended up being. She had a chance to write a poignant story about wanting to fit in, to be loved, all set in, for the most part, Italy. Salam missed the boat because her characters are not engaging, readers will not necessarily care about either one. The writing is sometimes stilted with tons of missed opportunities to dig deeper. There was way too much telling and not enough showing. This is not a book that you can’t wait to get back to. This is a book that is likely to be either much admired or much disliked. If you like coming-of-age stories with shallow characters and some angst, then this is the book for you. If you prefer your coming-of-age novels that make you feel something, that take advantage of locales, and with characters you root for, this is not one of those books. My thanks to Penguin and Edelweiss for an eARC.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sage

    3.5 stars, simply for the beautiful prose — I truly felt like I was in Italy, experiencing everything the girls at the Academy did. I loved that the author’s inspiration for the story was hearing about her elderly neighbor, Judy, finding her mystery aunt decades later just down the road at a silent convent. That year she was chosen to be the speaking liaison with the outside world, so she formed a relationship with her niece and then had to retreat into silence at the end of her year. I almost w 3.5 stars, simply for the beautiful prose — I truly felt like I was in Italy, experiencing everything the girls at the Academy did. I loved that the author’s inspiration for the story was hearing about her elderly neighbor, Judy, finding her mystery aunt decades later just down the road at a silent convent. That year she was chosen to be the speaking liaison with the outside world, so she formed a relationship with her niece and then had to retreat into silence at the end of her year. I almost wanted the book to be about *that* story. Loved the beautiful writing and the language, and really enjoyed the first half of the book. I definitely identified with Bridget’s struggles and feelings about her older sister, Rhona. But I didn’t really care for the last half of the book, particularly the plot twist at the end with one of the nuns. Throughout the book, Bridget kept lying and obsessing about Isabella, and I was like WHY???? I understood the lying to a point, but COME ON. Both characters were insufferable at times, and I was really annoyed by all of their interactions with each other. The gorgeous prose is definitely what saved this book for me, because I did not love the main characters.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Shepard (Between-the-Shelves)

    Original review posted at between-the-shelves.com! Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley for sending me an ARC of this to review! This isn't something that's necessarily in my wheelhouse, but it sounded interesting enough. It's essentially a coming of age story, set in the backdrop of 1950s Italy. Since I don't know many historical fiction novels set in Italy, I thought I'd give it a whirl! Those looking for a plot driven story definitely won't find it in this book. Belladonna is definitely a charact Original review posted at between-the-shelves.com! Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley for sending me an ARC of this to review! This isn't something that's necessarily in my wheelhouse, but it sounded interesting enough. It's essentially a coming of age story, set in the backdrop of 1950s Italy. Since I don't know many historical fiction novels set in Italy, I thought I'd give it a whirl! Those looking for a plot driven story definitely won't find it in this book. Belladonna is definitely a character and setting driven story. And the characters aren't always likable. However, there is a lot of substance there, and Salam draws you in slowly to this world she's created. The theme of obsession is reflected in the style the book is written in. However, the book does move a bit too slowly for me at times. I wish I could have gotten a bit more about what was happening outside of the school, to give a little more historical context. Despite that, Salam has a knack for description, easily pulling you into this school in Northern Italy. If you're looking for a book with strong characters, theme, and setting, this is definitely the book for you! Historical fiction fans won't be disappointed.

  25. 5 out of 5

    kate beswick

    "sometime love isn't enough" When someones knows you so well that changing your self isn't going to make them love you?? This book follows to friends from Connecticut who embark on a year studying in Italy. The story is from the perspective of the socially awkward Bridget and her obsession with her friend Isabella. this year abroad is an opportunity to morph into the person Isabella would like to be around. We follow Bridget in this one sided pursuit of her best friend, how the transformation make "sometime love isn't enough" When someones knows you so well that changing your self isn't going to make them love you?? This book follows to friends from Connecticut who embark on a year studying in Italy. The story is from the perspective of the socially awkward Bridget and her obsession with her friend Isabella. this year abroad is an opportunity to morph into the person Isabella would like to be around. We follow Bridget in this one sided pursuit of her best friend, how the transformation make her popular with the shallow girls around her but not transformed in Isabellas eyes. This book is beautifully written and transports you to Italy, the walls of the monastery and the mountains. I enjoyed this scenic approach to the story. I found the story quite shallow and some of the character caricatures of 1950s upper class teenagers. I general feelings of unrequited love felt very sincere and real. The hinted at themes of race and eating disorders I felt could have been explored more. I look forward to reading more books from Anbara Salam

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lee

    I received an ARC copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Isabella is everything Bridget is not, and Bridget loves her more than anything. When the two friends travel to an Italian academy together, Bridget hopes this will be their chance. The pacing of this book might be called slow by some, but I would call it leisurely. The story is rolled out for you at a steady, dreamy pace that will pull you deeply into the main character's heart and mind. Belladonna is a very chara I received an ARC copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Isabella is everything Bridget is not, and Bridget loves her more than anything. When the two friends travel to an Italian academy together, Bridget hopes this will be their chance. The pacing of this book might be called slow by some, but I would call it leisurely. The story is rolled out for you at a steady, dreamy pace that will pull you deeply into the main character's heart and mind. Belladonna is a very character driven book about obsessive love. If you're looking for something with a very active plot, this book is not for you. But if your favorite thing about a book is getting to know the characters, you will probably love this. I also have a book blog and a booktube channel :)

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lenoire

    Isabella is the beloved popular girl that everyone wants to befriend. Bridget, her best friend, is the exact opposite of each other. Bridget keeps to herself but, she watches everyone, especially Isabella. The girls graduate school and land spots in a coveted art school in Northern Italy. The Accademia di Belle Arti di Pentila is housed in a silent nun convent. The duo was happy to be away from their family and have their freedom. Bridget is happy because she is free to reinvent herself and no on Isabella is the beloved popular girl that everyone wants to befriend. Bridget, her best friend, is the exact opposite of each other. Bridget keeps to herself but, she watches everyone, especially Isabella. The girls graduate school and land spots in a coveted art school in Northern Italy. The Accademia di Belle Arti di Pentila is housed in a silent nun convent. The duo was happy to be away from their family and have their freedom. Bridget is happy because she is free to reinvent herself and no one will discriminate her for being an outsider due to her Egyptian roots. I thought this novel moved very slowly and was boring. I didn't take an interest in any of the characters. I felt like Bridget only cared about herself and Isabella. She showed very little regard for other people. Isabelle was just using Bridget as a pawn in her own little game. I feel like the author could have gone into more details for some things especially, Bridget's family.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    2.5 stars rounded up to 3. I'm torn about how I feel about Belladonna - at times, the writing style was subtly beautiful, and there were definitely moments where the setting was perfectly conjured - I felt just like I was there in the stifling heat, by the lake in Italy. However, something about this novel just didn't click with me - I spent the first half of the book disliking Isabella, and the second half disliking Bridget. I would agree with other reviewers who have said that they seem very yo 2.5 stars rounded up to 3. I'm torn about how I feel about Belladonna - at times, the writing style was subtly beautiful, and there were definitely moments where the setting was perfectly conjured - I felt just like I was there in the stifling heat, by the lake in Italy. However, something about this novel just didn't click with me - I spent the first half of the book disliking Isabella, and the second half disliking Bridget. I would agree with other reviewers who have said that they seem very young for their age - perhaps this is a side effect of the period setting. I was intrigued to see where the plot went, though it was quite slow paced, but I didn't feel a desperate need to pick the book up again once I put it down. By all means, my misgivings about the book are mostly personal taste - I felt quite claustrophobic being inside Bridget's head, and almost wished we could have seen more of what Isabella was thinking too. Thanks to Berkley and Netgalley for the ARC.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Celeste

    I really enjoyed this book. Isabella is beautiful, inscrutable, and popular. Her best friend, Bridget, keeps quietly to the fringes of their Connecticut Catholic school, watching everything and everyone, but most especially Isabella. In 1957, when the girls graduate, they land coveted spots at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Pentila in northern Italy, a prestigious art history school on the grounds of a silent convent. There, free of her claustrophobic home and the town that will always see her and I really enjoyed this book. Isabella is beautiful, inscrutable, and popular. Her best friend, Bridget, keeps quietly to the fringes of their Connecticut Catholic school, watching everything and everyone, but most especially Isabella. In 1957, when the girls graduate, they land coveted spots at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Pentila in northern Italy, a prestigious art history school on the grounds of a silent convent. There, free of her claustrophobic home and the town that will always see her and her Egyptian mother as outsiders, Bridget discovers she can reinvent herself as anyone she desires... perhaps even someone Isabella could desire in return. But as that glittering year goes on, Bridget begins to suspect Isabella is keeping a secret from her, one that will change the course of their lives forever.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tilly Fitzgerald

    A captivating tale of adolescent friendship, love and longing. When Bridget meets the enigmatic Isabelle at their Catholic High School, she becomes obsessed with becoming her best friend - but is that all there is to it? Set in the 1950s, this is a beautifully atmospheric coming of age story that follows Bridget and Isabelle from the US to Italy as their friendship evolves. Whilst the themes of teenagers battling with identity, sexuality and eating disorders that are pervasive in this novel are n A captivating tale of adolescent friendship, love and longing. When Bridget meets the enigmatic Isabelle at their Catholic High School, she becomes obsessed with becoming her best friend - but is that all there is to it? Set in the 1950s, this is a beautifully atmospheric coming of age story that follows Bridget and Isabelle from the US to Italy as their friendship evolves. Whilst the themes of teenagers battling with identity, sexuality and eating disorders that are pervasive in this novel are nothing new, the story feels heightened against the atmospheric backdrop of an Italian convent of silent nuns. I found this a beautifully evocative novel that made me feel almost uncomfortable at times - the level of self-absorption of these girls left me trying to remember what I was like at that age, which surely shows how real this story felt! Highly recommend.

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