The renaissance of Gwen Hathaway : a novel / Ashley Schumacher. New York : Wednesday Books, 2023.
Content Warnings: Grief, Fatphobia, Death of Parent.
I adored this book. It is such a sweet romance, but it also deals with some heavy topics.
Maddie has spent her life on the road with her parents at Renaissance Faires. She does online school and helps her parents make jewelry and leather journals to sell. But this summer is different, because her mom died last year. She and her dad are coping, barely at times, but Maddie is seeing a therapist (virtually) and using a journal to note occurrences so she won’t forget. When she has to make a decision, she flips a family heirloom, a coin that supposedly tells you what to do. Her family has always said they rely on the coin to make big decisions – but if she doesn’t believe in the coin’s magic, can she believe that what her parents had was fate?
They arrive at her mom’s favorite faire, Stormsworth, and everything is different. The new owners have built a real castle, paved the paths and made everything nicer. Maddie isn’t sure if she likes the changes (she doesn’t like any changes right now), but she can still see some of what her mother loved there. The security guard is ready to throw her out when she’s exploring at night. But the owners’ son, Arthur, saves the day. When he asks her to meet with his dads the next day and become the princess of the faire, she reluctantly agrees. She also agrees to go on day trips with Arthur during the week, but she tries to resist actually becoming his friend. He calls her Gwen, and makes it his mission to make her summer a great one. She WANTS to open up and experience more, but will her grief let her do it?
As I said, there are some heavy topics. Maddie is, of course, still grieving. She is coping with her grief with a regimented schedule and an avoidance of people – she thinks if she doesn’t let anyone in, they can’t hurt her.
She also feels uncomfortable in her body because she is not model skinny. Like many teenagers, she’s hard on herself, and being homeschooled, especially with the traveling aspect of her schooling, doesn’t help. She has one good friend who used to be on the circuit with her family, but they dropped out and now have a permanent home. While she and Fatima text and talk regularly, it’s not the same as having a friend your age to spend time with regularly.
And she thinks Arthur is still pining after Bre, one of his friends from school, and she’s just a fill-in for the person he really wanted to be the princess. She definitely has some self-confidence issues. But it is fun to watch Maddie grow in confidence over the summer. If you are looking for a slow burn romance that is sweet and rated G, this is a great choice!
Mary Beth Adams is the Community Engagement Librarian for Alamance County Public Libraries. You can reach her at email@example.com.