Thanks to partners NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the digital ARC of Ashley Schumacher’s The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway. The book will be published on Tuesday, March 14!
Ashley Schumacher’s The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway, her third novel, centers on the story of Madeline Hathaway. Maddy’s life is just a bit unusual: since she was born, she’s traveled with her parents on the Renaissance Faire circuit. She’s never attended in-person school. Instead, her mother homeschooled her for a while, and then she shifted over to online school.
As the book opens, Maddy and her father are approaching the one-year mark since her mother’s death from cancer. Maddy has plans for how she’ll honor her loss: they’re returning to her mother’s favorite faire where Maddy plans to document what has changed and what has stayed just as her mother loved it. This is part of her ongoing project to “notice” things by documenting them in her journal, to keep track of everything that happens so that she’ll remember it in case she loses someone else. And she’s going to keep the circle of those who matter to her very, very small.
Life doesn’t work out quite the way she planned. The faire has changed. A lot. It was taken over by new owners who have completed a dramatic overhaul, creating a polished—but perhaps less charming—version of what Maddy’s family loved. The plan to not care about people? That comes up against an obstacle, too: the teenaged bard of the faire, Arthur, who also happens to be the new owners’ son and who declares upon first sight that Maddy shall be called “Gwen” and, soon after, that she should be the faire’s princess.
Soon Maddy is pulled into Arthur’s plans: she joins his fathers as the princess, despite her concerns that people will criticize her since she doesn’t fit the normal, svelte image of royalty. She also joins Arthur in a series of adventures that he declares will help her “find her Gwen.”
I really, really loved this book, which brought me back to the joy I felt after reading Schumacher’s first book, Amelia Unabridged. Maddy’s grief—and the ways that she tries to hold back the onslaught of that grief—is beautifully and empathetically portrayed. Maddy and Arthur are both basically kind and decent human beings who have insecurities and who make mistakes with each other, often as a result of those insecurities. While they’re really the focus of the novel, the secondary characters—their dads, Maddy’s best friend who left the faire circuit, and a few friends from Arthur’s high school—round out the story well. But it’s Maddy and Arthur’s growing friendship and the chances each takes in trusting someone else that warmed my heart.
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I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.