In this realistic fiction novel, protagonist Carolina Lovel learns on her eighteenth birthday that she was adopted, her birth mother having written her a letter in a foreign language. Following a few years of research, she ventures to Italy to discover the truth about her heritage, with three talented but defiant students, termed Females of Intellectual Genius, or FIGs, from the Wood Rose Orphanage and Academy of Young Women, joining her. The girls attempt to use their abilities to make sense of the enigmatic Voynich Manuscript, , written in a language similar to that of Carolina’s birth mother’s letter. Their journey takes them through a world of gypsy sorcery and tradition, which proves exciting and dangerous.
The novel opens with a Croatian quotation about where gypsies will go other than alongside their own kin, and brief prologue, the latter an excerpt from Charles Godfrey Leland’s 1891 book Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling, the citation indicating that sorcery is commonly associated with gypsies. The main chapters begin with gypsy women gathering plant parts for potions, the first also introducing Jimmy Bob Doake, a North Carolinian who was the only sibling among eleven to reach the eighth grade, and detests change. The initial chapter further highlights three FIGs from the mentioned Orphanage and Academy who at night snip a plant part they likely jokingly term Peni erecti.
The novel regularly uses gypsy terms such as choovihni, which is a wisewoman, an exalted position among them, with protagonist Carolina called to the headmaster’s office for the described infraction by the FIGs for whom she is held liable. The events ultimately culminate in a trip by Carolina and her star pupils to Italy to discover more about her heritage, accounting for an entertaining story. The author does use a bit too much gypsy jargon at times, and there are a few references to the Methodist Church instead of United Methodist Church, making ambiguous the book’s timeline (the UMC founded in 1968), but it’s still a recommended read.
Barbara Casey is the author of several award-winning novels for both adults and young adults, and numerous articles, poems, and short stories. In addition to her own writing, she is an editorial consultant and president of the Barbara Casey Agency, established in 1995, representing authors throughout the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan.
In 2014 Barbara became a partner in Strategic Media Books Publishing, an independent publishing house that specializes in true crime and other cutting-edge adult nonfiction.
Barbara lives on a mountain in Georgia with her husband and three dogs who adopted her: Benton, a hound-mix, Fitz, a miniature dachshund, and Gert, a Jack Russel terrier of sorts.
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