Gr. 6-9. Fourteen-year-old Betsy Balcombe feels as much a prisoner of remote, rocky St. Helena as Napoleon Bonaparte, who spends part of his island exile quartered in the Balcombe family's guesthouse. Napoleon instantly recognises a kindred spirit in the restless Betsy, and soon the unlikely companions are racing horses, playing whist, and practising waltz steps. All this is pure embroidery, right. Au contraire, says first-time novelist Rabin; the friendship is documented. Unfortunately, the story's invented dramatic centre is far-fetched, and how and why the protagonists forged such an unusual bond, one that flew in the face of not only nationalistic inclinations but also nineteenth-century propriety (though Rabin pointedly keeps things platonic), never becomes clear. Readers will almost certainly find themselves trolling the library and the Internet for more information and seeking out Betsy's autobiography, which curiously Rabin says she did not read. Devotees of Ann Rinaldi's novels and series such as the Royal Diaries, which offer a similar mix of facts and girl-powered fiction, will find Betsy's brush with a historical leviathan especially appealing. Jennifer Mattson
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