In 1483 Spain, 7-year-old Loma lives with her family in the juderia, a ghetto where Jews are forced to live. Loma’s loving abuela, her grandmother whom her family calls Bela, tells her a story about a ceiling made of eggshells: “It was as beautiful and surprising ... and even as improbable as we Jews are in Spain.” At the time, Loma doesn’t comprehend the weight of Bela’s words.
Though Loma is close to Bela, she’s frightened of her daunting abuelo, her grandfather Belo. After tragedy strikes the family, Belo enlists Loma to come with him on his travels to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to secure the safety of Jews in a time when persecution against them runs rampant. Using his wealth, prestige, and influence, Belo collects money for the monarchs and the Catholic church in exchange for the Jews’ protection.
Initially, Loma is thrilled to accompany her grandfather on his adventures. Being a child, she doesn’t realize the peril she will encounter and the pressures she and her family will face to give up their Jewish faith and convert to Christianity.
A peace-loving child who hates discord, Loma has one hope---to marry and become a mother. In the following years as she continues on her travels with Belo and helps him in political and personal adversity, she learns that her dreams are expendable for the sake of a greater cause and that loving peace means facing conflict with creativity and resolve.
Though recommended for children ages 8-12, this novel is better suited for ages 12 and older because it deals with the bitter realities of the Holy Inquisition and the persecution of Jews. In author notes, Gail Carson Levine relates her family connection to the Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, which is shared by Spain and Portugal, and offers helpful insights into the historical period covered in this book. (Quill Tree Books)