Dark Shimmer by Donna Jo NapoliDark Shimmer by Donna Jo Napoli

Dark Shimmer

byDonna Jo Napoli

Paperback | September 13, 2016

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Set in medieval Venice, this captivating fairy tale retelling by award-winning author Donna Jo Napoli explores belonging, beauty, and the transformative power of love through the eyes of a teenage girl. Dolce has grown up hidden away on an island in a lagoon. She is a giant, a freak, tormented by everyone but her loving mother. She spends her time learning the valuable secret of making mirrors. Following a tragedy, Dolce swims away and lands on an island where people see her as normal, even beautiful. Marin, a kind widower, and his little daughter bring Dolce to live with them in their grand palazzo. Eventually, Dolce and Marin marry. She secretly continues to make mirrors, not realizing that quicksilver endangers her . . . and so evil begins in innocence.
Donna Jo Napoli is the author of many distinguished books for young readers, among them The Great God Pan, Daughter of Venice, The Magic Circle, Zel, Breath, Bound, Stones in Water, The King of Mulberry Street, and Alligator Bayou. She has a BA in mathematics and a PhD in Romance linguistics from Harvard University and has taught widel...
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Title:Dark ShimmerFormat:PaperbackDimensions:368 pages, 8.31 × 5.5 × 0.81 inPublished:September 13, 2016Publisher:Random House Children's BooksLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:055349418X

ISBN - 13:9780553494181

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Chapter 1BloodI’m swimming through the lagoon in a giant circle around our island, free and graceful. My body isn’t my enemy in the water. And nothing can hurt me here--there are no nasty creatures in these waters, though men say they exist far away, in deep ocean waters. Here it’s shallow. Most of the time I could simply stand if I got too tired to swim. And for the few deeper spots, I could float on my back. But I won’t get tired; I’m the best swimmer of any of the kids.I turn my face toward the lagoon. In this direction I can look out so far, the sky meets the sea. I’m not even sure where one ends and the other begins. That’s comforting. Mamma likes to say that even though we live out here, separated from the rest of the world, the water and sky remind us that we’re linked to everything.My eyes go back to the island. Dawn slides slowly across it, making it shine yellow-gold. The fishing boats will be going out soon, but I’ve already passed the point where they come and go, so it doesn’t matter.From here I can see the field, and the canal beyond it. Two swans swim in the canal, calm as stones. It is lined with houses, almost all empty. Lots of people lived here once. Thousands. So many, there were two convents and sixteen cloisters. The buildings are in ruins now. There was even a bishop here. He sat in the big stone chair outside the church of Santa Maria Assunta.There are only sixty-four people here now. But Mella is with child, so we’ll soon be sixty-five if she’s lucky. Sometimes women aren’t lucky in childbirth. We’re not many here, and that’s how we want to keep it. This island is our refuge. Whenever men get in a boat to go trading, they tell the people they meet how our children die from marsh fever all the time. Otherwise, the people who originally owned the houses here might come back . . . and then we’d lose everything.I swim past the marsh. Mosquitoes hover over it, a black cloud stark against the dawn sky. The air over the marsh is putrid--mal aria. Most people who breathe it get a fever so high, they’re in bed for weeks. Some even die. But the mosquitoes thrive on that air.A man slogs through the grasses, bare-legged, with a cloth wrapped around his loins. It’s Giordano, of course. He’s the only one who can withstand that air and the only one who works so early. I change my stroke so just half my head emerges from the water. My hands and feet don’t break the surface--no part of me makes a splash. He’s unlikely to see me. We’re not allowed to swim alone, not even me, though no one really cares if anything bad happens to me. No one except Mamma.Giordano flails his arms at the mosquitoes. He’s already clumping back out to drier land. He picks things from his legs and throws them in a bucket. Leeches.People use disgusting, slimy leeches for healing. Someone must be sick. Maybe Mella had her baby in the night and something has gone wrong. Oh, I pray not. I pray Giordano is gathering the leeches to sell to physicians on the other islands.The only thing I know about those islands is that the people who live there make glass and are rotten, like people on the mainland. Everyone here says life there was awful, and they wince. Only on our island are we safe. We children aren’t allowed to go out in a trading boat. Those wretched people might snatch us. They steal children and make them their slaves. We’re not even allowed to look toward other islands. We can look only north and west, to the forests on the mainland. Hardly any people live there.I’m on the final stretch of this long swim; just around that bend I’ll see home. Mamma and I live in a room in one of the old convents, San Giovanni Evangelista. Now I see the bridge we cross to get to our home. Looking at it from here, it occurs to me that our home is on its own island. Ha! We have our own island. It’s as though Mamma is queen and I am princess, like in one of Giordano’s tales of the land he used to live in. Princess! If I said that to the other kids, they’d laugh in my face. Though not really in my face . . . they can’t reach anywhere near my face.I swim faster. I can’t wait to call Mamma my queen. She’ll laugh, happy.“Hey!” calls a voice from behind me.A boat! I won’t look. I swim fast, faster than I’ve ever swum before. If it’s coming after me, I can’t hear for the pounding pulse in my head. I’m lost if they get me. Mamma will never even know what happened to me. Fast. Please, Lord in heaven, let me be fast.I’m onshore in minutes and running toward home. I race along the rocky path, cross the little piazza--the campo--and go sprawling on my face, slamming my forehead against the ground.“What’s the matter with you?” It’s little Tonso. His brother, Bini, stands beside him.“Run!” I wave them off. “Strangers are coming!”Tonso screams, “Where?” They dash around a corner.I roll over and dare to look back. No boat has followed; no hateful strangers chase.My knee split open in the fall. But I’m all right. I pick pebbles from the gash. I’m all right, I’m all right.The boys creep out on bowed legs white as sticks without the bark, especially Tonso’s skinny leg, the one that never grew right. They peer in all directions.I stand up. I’m older than these boys, but not by much. Still, they’re half my size.“I don’t see any strangers,” says Tonso.“A boat came by.”“You’re lying,” says Bini.“I am not! They nearly caught me.”“You? Who’d want you?” says Tonso.Bini nods. They think I wouldn’t even make a decent slave.My ears buzz. My cheeks burn. My whole body is aflame.I walk a few steps past them, my back tall, then break into a run, no matter the pain in my knee. I go straight to the church of Santa Maria Assunta. It’s empty. I race down the center of the nave and don’t even glance at the skull of Santa Cecilia, the martyr. I stop under the main apse. I strip off my wet smock and turn my face upward.Light streams in through the rose-colored glass window. Maria the Virgin holds the baby Gesù high and looks down on me from the glittering gold background. A host of apostles stand below her, in a ring around the bottom of the dome. I wonder what they think, whether they can look ahead to that babe’s death. Mamma says only priests know, and there are no priests on our island anymore.I turn in a circle holding my hands out, palms upward. Palms matter to God the Father, so they must matter to Maria the Virgin. Gesù’s palms bled. Not when he was a baby, like in the window’s mosaic, but when he was grown. When they killed him. Mamma tells me all about Gesù.“Maria, look at me, see me, please,” I say, but softly. She can hear me, even up there. That’s part of being divine--hearing everything, seeing everything, feeling everything. I’m spinning now, faster and faster. “Stop me.” I slap my palms on the very top of my head. “Stop me from growing. Stop me from being a monster.”And I fall. I always fall when I spin like this. I put my lips to the marble mosaic. “Help me.” I press one cheek against the chilled stone. “I’m twelve years old and taller than any man here. I tower over the women. You can see it. You can stop it. Help me.” I clear my throat. “Help me.” This isn’t right. Someone has to listen. “Help me!”“What are you doing?” It’s Giordano.My fingers scrabble across the floor for my wet smock, but he’s already swooped it up. I squat, knees to chest, arms holding all of me together tight. “Give it back.”The tips of his shoes graze my toes. “Don’t worry. No one wants to look at your ugly body. No one ever will.”I know that. Why else would I cover up? I glare. “You have a fat, old face.”“Your mother named you Dolce--‘sweet’--out of hope, I guess. You’re far from sweet.” He drops the smock on my head.I scramble into it as he walks around me.“I saw you running. Those long legs of yours afford you one advantage.”“I’d give them up in an instant to have yours.” I don’t know why I said that. It’s true, but it’s wicked. Mamma says I have a healthy body . . . and ingrates are the worst sort of people.Giordano tilts his head, and his eyes drift upward to the Virgin. He sighs. “You know what, Dolce? This is the first time I’ve ever felt sorry for you. Your mother would have done better to leave you on a doorstep in the big city before she moved here. But she’d lost six babies already by the time you came along. . . . She felt cursed. She wouldn’t listen to reason. Did you know that?”Of course I knew that. But he’s almost acting nice. Doesn’t he realize he’s saying Mamma would have done better to kill me? That’s what abandonment would have meant. No one wants me.“So here you are. A freak among us.” He laughs, and his big apple cheeks look ready to burst. Everyone has apple cheeks but me.“It’s not funny.”“No. Not for you, I suppose not.” He rubs the back of his neck. “I was a freak when I first arrived. A freak even here. I spoke different--the way they speak way down south on the mainland. I ate different. Eh, you know, everywhere you go, you’re a stranger. But you can’t just sit in a hole your whole life, can you?”I scream inside my head. All Giordano had to do was learn to speak like here, eat like here. He has no idea what it’s like to be a real freak.“Look at all that blood on your leg. You fall all the time. Listen, you want to make people like you?”“It’s impossible.”“What would you think of making mirrors? Venerio needs an assistant. He’s getting too old to keep up with the workload. It’s a nasty job. If you do it, then he doesn’t have to recruit some other kid.”“Nothing I do will make the kids like me.”“Maybe not. But if you helped, the kids would be relieved, and at least Venerio would act like he liked you.”“I don’t care if Venerio likes me or not.”“You’d have a way to fill your time, learn a little. And he’d give you something to bring home for dinner each night.”“I can catch fish on my own.”“Not fish. Moscardini.”Mamma loves those tiny octopuses. She hums as she eats them, laced with salt. My heart opens at the thought of presenting Mamma with a gift. I nod. “Thanks.”“I’ll let Venerio know,” calls Giordano from behind me.I walk home, feeling eyes watch me. I step through our door. The kitchen fire sputters loudly. The smell of cod and anchovies permeates the room, a surprise in this season.Mamma takes one look at my knee and rushes over to put her arm around my waist and draw me close. I have to lean down to kiss her cheek. “I’ll put the fish aside,” she says. “My baccala can wait. I’ll go get liver, my beautiful daughter. Liver and lungs can fix anything. Don’t you worry, Dolce. Don’t you worry one bit. You are my treasure. Your face--so fair.”She always says that. A sense of pain and tenderness fills me. I don’t understand why Mamma loves me, but I love her so much for loving me.Chapter 2WorkI’m in a hurry, but I weave my way through the yellow flowers anyway. Sunflowers, they’re called. Some explorers recently crossed a vast sea, discovered hot islands, and brought these flowers back to this part of the world. I love them. They grow taller than me, and they seem to be constantly smiling. With seeds all over their faces, big striped seeds that crack in your teeth.When I emerge into our work area, I see my wildcat friend, Gato Zalo. He sprawls on his back, tummy to the sun, blissful. Inside my chest, I feel the color of his fur blend with the color of the sunflower petals, golden and sweet, as though I’ve become the clearest honeypot.Not even a whisker twitches. I squat and put my hand on Gato Zalo’s ribs. He twist-jumps to his feet with a hiss and looks around.“It’s just you and me.”He walks off with a flick of the tail, unforgiving. I’m supposed to touch him only when he offers himself; those are the rules he established. Well, that’s all right. It’s work time. Besides, all it takes to lure him back is a pile of fish heads.I like to feed Gato Zalo; it makes him happy, and it cuts down on the number of birds he kills. I love the birds. They eat the insects that would destroy our gardens. And nothing eases loneliness better than the trill of birds. Even the short, harsh cries of the terns that breed in the marshes are a respite from being solitary for hours on end. That’s another good thing about the new sunflowers--doves come to eat their seeds.I lean over a transparent sheet of glass. It’s made on one of the other islands. Venerio told me glass used to be made on our island, years and years ago. The very rich had glass windows instead of oiled paper ones.I’d better get busy. I’ve been working for Venerio for two weeks now, and I learn fast, but this is the first time I’m working alone. Venerio had a coughing fit yesterday, so today he is trusting in me while he rests up. The glass I’m supposed to turn into a mirror lies long and narrow on the ground. It’s about the length of my forearm and the width of my hand. Last year Venerio made only small mirrors; you could carry them in one hand. But now the glass is larger. Carrying this one takes two hands, even for me. If we’ll be working on bigger and bigger glass, that’s good, because my size will be an advantage. And bigger glass means my job will take longer. Both things are good--both will make everyone realize they need me.

Editorial Reviews

"...[W]hen the bones of the story piece themselves together, a stunning, beautiful, and tragic reflection of Snow White emerges...An achingly lovely, sometimes frightening reimagining."—Publishers Weekly starred review "Napoli offers up a sumptuously dark retelling of “Snow White,” bringing humanity to the wicked stepmother while still holding her accountable for her crimes.” —The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books starred reviewFrom the Hardcover edition.