Scalding water bursts from ancient marble wells, once peaceful venues flood with dark water, and sharks race through the canals of nineteenth century Venice. Eleven-year-old Teodora finally steps foot into the city of her dreams, only to be targeted by Venice’s past enemies. The Undrowned Child, by Michelle Lovric, revolves around Teo’s journey, as she uncovers her past and attempts to rescue Venice from a bleak future. She goes “between-the Linings” of the floating city, uncovering an alternate universe in which she discovers the truth behind Venice’s plight. Teodora’s adventures are riddled with many captivating elements, from historic settings to “baddened” magic and gruesome villains.
Teodora’s tale takes place in Venice, Italy, during the summer of 1899. This picturesque city is overflowing with history, which is made clear by the author’s use of Venice’s past to set the story. Many of the locations Teodora explores are physical places in Venice that are still present today. The beginning scene of the book finds Teo in a small, charming secondhand bookshop, eagerly browsing the bookshelves. Lovric revealed that this very bookshop was inspired by one found in the square of Santa Maria Nova. In the prophecy that is given to the readers at the start, a “Bone Orchard” is referenced. This location is more commonly known as the San Michele cemetery. The author introduces these places with rich detail, placing Teodora into the wondrous city. The author’s use of setting was executed masterfully, as she clearly understood Venice’s history and applied it to Teodora’s experience of the city.
Though the setting is realistic, an important component of the plot is the plethora of magical elements found in the novel. Teodora is submerged in a world of magic, good and bad. Teo herself is gifted with the ability to see a person’s dialogue written above their head, each in an unique font. She discovers more of her capabilities as she uncovers the links between her and Venice. For a large part of the book, Teo is stuck “between-the-Linings.” This is a secret “city” exclusively for Venetians, that also protects individuals in times of crises by hiding them from the normal world, which includes both friend and foe. The magic in this book pairs perfectly with the setting, implying that magic is hidden in supposedly normal places. The author uses magic to add layers to the beautifully crafted setting, setting the tale in the middle of an unsuspecting, normal population.
The cast of The Undrowned Child uses the distinctive features of each character to contrast the traits of another. Teodora’s adoptive parents are scientists, and do not believe in fate and magic, along with many of the other adults in the novel. Meanwhile, Teo herself is an avid believer in such things, which gives her the ability to see certain things the adults cannot. Additionally, Teo and her cousin, Maria, clash on multiple occasions. Maria is a part of the “fashionable crowd” back in Teo’s hometown, Naples, while Teo’s intelligent and reclusive personality ensured that she was often the target of such a group. The skilled use of juxtaposition, along with the diverse cast of characters, results in the reader seeing the uniqueness of each character.
The author’s writing style is one of the most important aspects of any piece of writing. Lovric’s style is eloquent and bursting with detail. In a particular scene, Teodora visits the statue of Signor Rioba. Lovric details Teo’s perception of the statue, saying “His motionless body seemed to trap centuries of anger inside it, like a prehistoric fly caught forever in a drop of amber,” (53). The author’s eloquence allows for the story to come to life around the reader. Lovric’s portrayal of the characters gives them a depth that many authors struggle with. Each of her characters is layered, with different faces for each one. Publishers Weekly also praises the author’s use of diversity in the novel, saying, “Energetic pacing, delightful fantasy, historical drama, lively humor, and a palpable love for Venice pervade the first YA novel from Lovric (who has written several adult novels set in that city). Addressing themes of honor, friendship, redemption, and belonging, it's an engrossing page-turner.” She is able to incorporate many elements into a flowing, cohesive piece. Lovric’s writing style gives the book a unique tone, while fluidly transitioning from one scene to the next. The novel would not be as captivating without the author’s unparalleled style.
The noble sights of Venice in The Undrowned Child hide an enthralling world of magic that Teodora is swept into. This novel will put readers in the majestic floating city, battling the enemies of Venice while dealing with the effects of being “between-the-Linings.” Make sure not to fall into the canals as hard as you will fall in love with this masterpiece.