A Ceiling Made of Eggshells is popular author Gail Carson Levine’s tribute to her own Sephardic-Jewish heritage.
A Ceiling Made of Eggshells by Gail Carson Levine. Harper, 2020, 317 pages.
Reading Level: teen, ages 12-15
Recommended for: ages 12-16
Spain, ca 1490: As the daughter of a large and wealthy Jewish family protected within the boundaries of the juderia, Paloma (Loma) Cantala looks forward to a husband and family of her own while lovingly caring for her nieces and nephews. The Almighty appears to have another plan, however, when He decrees that Loma’s beloved grandmother should die in the plague. Her grandfather Don Joseph, patriarch of the family, then settles on Loma as his favorite grandchild. She has a head for numbers, a calm personality, and some talent as a cook—all favorable to Belo, who decides Loma can take the place of his deceased wife as confidante and traveling companion.
Belo is one of the wealthiest Jews in Spain, often on the road in pursuit of business opportunities and political alliances. The advantage of traveling with him is that Loma will meet the nation’s prominent people, including King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The disadvantage, soon evident, is that Belo will have no competition from a potential husband. And, as Loma will soon learn, it’s a crucial time for the Jews, with great pressure from the Christians to convert. How long will Belo’s money hold them off? Will he be able to bribe the King and Queen, or even the fearsome Inquisitor Torquemada?
Loma grows from a shy 11-year-old to a mature teen—and, in her culture, an old maid—who finally works herself free of her grandfather. Their dynamic is the heart of this sprawling story, and Belo is a towering figure. But Loma is in her own way impressive, all the more so for what young women today are often taught to scorn: her longing for a husband and children.
Christians are the antagonists here, though many of them are seen as sincere in their desire for the Jews to be saved. Readers will easily understand that the offer of salvation-or-else led to “conversions” of convenience only. Loma expresses what the choice felt like for devout Jews: “Since God made me, which do you think He’d like better, that I usurp His power and unmake myself or that I convert and worship false gods?”
Gail Carson Levine, best known for Ella Enchanted and the Princess Series, mines her own family history for this family saga of the Sephardic Jews of Spain. As the strongest narrative thread is Loma’s conflicted relationship with her grandfather and the continuing pressure to convert, readers accustomed to nonstop adventure may find it a bit of a slog. But rich characterization and historical re-creation will compensate others.
- Christians may well be uncomfortable with how Loma sees Christ and Christianity. But it’s worth talking about how Christianity was presented and practiced (by some) during this time in history. How was the behavior of nominal, and even sincere, Christians of the time contrary to the actual teaching of Christ?
Overall Rating: 4 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 3
- Artistic/literary value: 4.5
Also at Redeemed Reader:
- For a light-hearted, graphic-novel treatment of Orthodox Judaism, see our reviews of the graphic novel series Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword and How Mirka Met a Meteorite.
- Other good YA novels about faith in the late Middle Ages: The Passion of Dolssa and Jepp, Who Defied the Stars.
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