The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers on April 12, 2016
Genres: young adult, historical fiction, religion
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This is a difficult book to review, just like it’s a difficult book to categorize. It has religious undertones, but it’s not necessarily a story about religion. It doesn’t seem like the typical young adult historical fiction novel (and it really isn’t), but that doesn’t mean it’s not compelling in its own right.
It’s about Dolssa, but it’s not, actually.
You heard me correctly. Despite the title of this book implying a recount of Dolssa’s sufferings, this novel is actually about the community Dolssa affects with her presence when she is taken in by three sisters while being pursued by a friar. It’s about how you don’t know where you’re headed, and, sometimes, you need the right people to get you where you need to go.
The Passion of Dolssa is a subtle novel in every way. Subtle in character development, subtle in its characterization of the townspeople, subtle in its impact. It’s one of those novels where, slowly, you see all the pieces fitting together, and you can’t help but smile, because how could you not have seen it before? Such subtlety and gentleness made it difficult for me to get invested in this book, but eventually I got there.
I wish I could have connected to the characters sooner. I wish we had more page time with them so I could get to know them more intimately, Dolssa especially. However, I enjoyed what we did see, and I was eventually able to get invested in the lives and well-beings of these characters with time. I still think about these characters from time to time, even though I read the book several months ago.
Another thing that threw me off a little was the language usage in this novel. It takes place in the thirteenth century, so obviously language was very different. This book did a great job of integrating various terms and phrases into the novel that really reinforced the book’s setting and atmosphere. I just wish I didn’t have to turn to the glossary as much as I did (which, granted, was not often, but still). I’d rather have that energy invested in immersing myself in the story. (Very personal preference, though. If you’re okay with glossaries in fantasy novels, you’d be fine with this; I’m pretty sure the glossary in this book was neither overwhelming nor overly extensive.)
Finally, the ending confused me. (And made me sad, to be honest; I know that things don’t always end happily, but…why? I was finally satisfied, but then that satisfaction was snatched from me. It was disheartening. 😦 ) I wish I’d understood what was going on better in the last chapter or two.
Overall, though this book took a while for me to warm up to it, I very much enjoyed The Passion of Dolssa, and would readily recommend it to anyone interested in an atypical YA historical fiction novel–one that not only includes religion, but shows both the bad and good sides of faith. Expect this novel to grow on you, though; don’t expect it to hook you in right away.
But if it does? That’s great, too.