When 16-year-old Laura della Scala learns that her older sister, Beatrice, has drowned, she is given no time to grieve. Instead, Laura’s father removes her from the convent where he forcibly sent her years earlier and orders her to marry Beatrice’s fiancé, a repulsive old merchant named Vincenzo. Panicked, Laura betrays a powerful man to earn her way into the Segreta, a shadowy society of women who deal in only one currency—secrets. The Segreta seems like the answer to Laura’s prayers. The day after she joins their ranks, Vincenzo is publicly humiliated and conveniently exiled. Soon, however, Laura begins to suspect that her sister’s death was not a tragic accident but a cold-blooded murder—one that might involve the Segreta and the women she has come to trust.
Tell Me More: Before I say anything else, I have to express my disappointment over the change in covers. The previous cover–which you can see here–was beautiful and atmospheric. It had the feel of a Renaissance painting, which tied in wonderfully with the story. The new cover, however, feels derivative and might actually make casual bookstore browsers believe that it is a paranormal novel. Sometimes I agree with the need for a new cover, but this book didn’t need it.
The reading experience itself is difficult to describe. Laura’s story is full of mountains and valleys of revelations, but you are never quite sure which one it is. Conversations that seem innocuous turn out to be damaging, events meant to save reputations destroy them. And in the middle of this quiet chaos is a sixteen-year-old girl who has to learn to lie and cheat and keep deadly secrets, not only to save her life but her family’s as well. “Intense” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Gould’s talent for atmosphere serves her well–you can almost hear the lapping of the water against the gondolas as you turn the pages. Laura’s world is an easy portal to enter, and shadows lurk everywhere. I was extremely impressed with the details Gould included in the story, and my attention never wavered while I was reading.
I cite this book as an excellent example of well-written teen literature for many reasons. One of them is the impeccable combination of parts that turned into a magnificent story, otherwise known as organic unity. It is one of the standards I hold books up to when I read them. Should the author drop the ball, so to speak, by including unnecessary scenes or confusing plot twists, it becomes harder for the story to remain whole. Cross My Heart is a powerful book for many reasons: because Gould takes care to mold her characters well and make their actions believable; because her atmosphere reflects her setting and vice versa and; because the themes of secrecy and loyalty are played out in mysterious ways. I never once asked myself what the point of a particular scene was, nor did I think there were any unnecessary characters or descriptions. Gould said exactly enough of what she needed to say to provide a tightly woven and intriguing read.
The Final Say: Historical YA has found a bright new voice in Sasha Gould–Cross My Heart is not a book you should miss if you love chilling revelations and emotional intensity.