Young Adult


Alessandra Giliani
Italian anatomist, serving as the first woman prosector, or preparer of dissections for anatomical study

The opening page of a medical work by Ibn al-Nafis (from a copy made in India  during the 17th or 18th centuries).

Bologna University in the later 14th century
Bologna University in the later 14th century
 from the artist
Laurentius de Voltolina

natomical theatre, University of Bologna
constructed in 1637.
Photo credit:
Paolo Carboni

Medieval Book Reviews !
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A Golden Web
by Barbara Quick
Knowledge, dedication, imagination and the pursuit of a dream
As a young girl, Alessandra Giliani has a voracious thirst for books and knowledge.  While her brother Nicco chafes at the rigorous Aristotle studies assigned to him,  Alessandra possesses an uncanny knowledge, not only from books but from observation of the natural world and the people around her.  Alessandra has access to all the books that come through her father's workshop but even those are not enough for her inquisitive mind. Alessandra is a girl with dreams, dreams bigger than the options usually available to girls and women in medieval Italy whose choices are often either marriage or the convent.  When her family arranges a marriage with a young man, Alessandra hatches a bold, daring plan with her siblings that opens up a new world to her that she could not even imagine in her wildest dreams. Through trials, dedication, study and imagination, Alessandra's pioneer medical research opens up new pathways, new ways of seeing the human body.

Barbara Quick's young adult historical novel A GOLDEN WEB tells the story of one of the lesser widely known medieval women, but nevertheless an unusual woman whose life and achievements deserve to be more than a footnote in history.  A GOLDEN WEB focuses on the the youth and achievements of Alessandra Giliani, an Italian anatomist who served as the first woman prosector, or preparer of dissections for anatomical study.  Through an exquisite combination of meticulous historical research and poetic imagination, Barbara Quick makes her characters come alive on the pages and in the heart.  Through Alessandra's interactions with others and nature, the reader discovers the inspiration, creativity and compassion that drive her heart.  Through her deep love of books and all knowledge, the reader catches a glimpse of the intricate insights that will later influence her studies and medical research. Alessandra is a girl whose inner fortitude and imagination allows her to realize her dreams and more in an age when the role for women was narrowly circumscribed. She does not compromise her goals or herself to others.  Barbara Quick's portrait of Alessandra will inspire modern young adult readers who themselves have hidden dreams and aspirations.

Barbara Quick takes the reader right into the heart of the medieval Italy.  From Alessandra's childhood to the halls of the University of Bologna, from the  presence of Dante on the sidelines to the Arabic influence on philosophy and medicine, the reader becomes completely immersed in the environment that surround her characters.  Barbara Quick's vivid descriptions of the luxurious details of medieval books will fill any book lover's imagination with the beautiful treasure books are to readers.  The narrative style is fluid and approachable to young adults but Barbara Quick has not sacrificed any of the beauty of historical fiction.  Indeed, her powerful use of imagery and her ability to integrate authentic historical detail seamlessly into her story raises the standard of the whole Young Adult category to a new height, in my opinion. Rather than talking down to her younger readers, Barbara Quick inspires the imagination,taking them on a journey through medieval Italy through the life of a woman who has much in common with many young adult girls (and some older women whose age has not lessened the girl within).

A GOLDEN WEB is the kind of book that should win several awards.  A GOLDEN WEB will appeal to a wide variety of readers, young adult and older: book lovers who treasure books, girls or women who love art, girls or women who love science (especially medicine), readers who love history or historical fiction, readers possessing a curiosity for any field of knowledge.   A GOLDEN WEB is a book for daughters, mothers, and grandmothers to share with one another. A GOLDEN WEB would make a great gift for young men and women in the medical field or those who aspire to be.   A special note to all medieval enthusiasts, no matter what your age --- don't wait for the paperback!   A GOLDEN WEB is a book to treasure for many years!
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (April 2010)

Book description

Alessandra is desperate to escape—from her stepmother, who’s locked her away for a year; from the cloister that awaits her if she refuses the marriage plans that have been made for her; from the expectations that limit her and every other girl in fourteenth-century Italy. There’s no tolerance in her village for her keen intelligence and her unconventional ideas.

In defiant pursuit of her dreams, Alessandra undertakes an audacious quest, her bravery equaled only by the dangers she faces. Disguised and alone in a city of spies and scholars, Alessandra will find a love she could not foresee—and an enduring fame.

In this exquisite imagining of the centuries-old story of Alessandra Giliani, the world’s first female anatomist, distinguished novelist Barbara Quick gives readers the drama, romance, and rich historical detail for which she is known as she shines a light on an unforgotten—and unforgettable—heroine.

Copyright Merrimon Crawford  2007-2010 All Rights Reserved