Mira’s mother disappeared months ago without a word, and Mira, her father, and her older brother Malcolm are pretty upset about it. Then one day they get a very cryptic postcard from her, postmarked Paris. “Who even sends postcards anymore?” Mira wonders, but her father is inexplicably cheered by it, and they head to Paris themselves.
While Mira is climbing the tower at Notre Dame she touches one of the gargoyles and finds herself staring out at a different Parisian skyline–one missing its most iconic landmark, the Eiffel Tower. And why is she wearing a long green gown? She hurries down and casually asks a young man what date it is. “The second of April, 1881,” he tells her.
Mira must figure out why she’s in 1881 and who she can trust to help her. She sees her mother, who runs from her but later sends her a note telling her that two people related to each other must never interact in a different time or they could potentially mess up the future. Mira is mostly mystified, and bumbles around trying to figure out what to do. The only thing she’s managed to bring with her on her time travel is her sketchbook, and she keeps busy copying what she sees.
In the meantime, she meets Degas and Renoir, and stays with Mary Cassat. She’s very drawn to a young man named Claude, Degas’ assistant, and he helps her navigate her strange new environment. She’s very puzzled by how people keep talking about religion–particularly Judaism. Her mother sends her a note to tell her to help stop the Dreyfus affair, and of course at first she doesn’t even know what that is.
Mira’s Diary: Lost in Paris is a whirlwind adventure of time travel, art, mystery and history, filled with pencil sketches of famous people, art, and places. But more than that, it’s the story of the Dreyfus affair. For those of you not familiar with this terrible example of anti-Semitism in France of the early-20th-century, Dreyfus was an army officer who was falsely accused of selling state secrets to Germany. His trial was a mockery of justice, and even when his supporters managed to get a second trial, it didn’t do any good since the army managed to suppress any evidence that would show the falseness of the accusation. The trial whipped up enormous levels of anti-Jewish sentiment in French society. Dreyfus was depicted in political cartoons as a pig and a devil, and emotions ran so high that families divided over it.
I love that Marissa Moss has written this book, a first in a series of Mira’s time-traveling adventures. Although some other reviewers have been concerned that the subject matter is too heavy for its target audience, I would disagree. Things like this happen in the world, and if they are happening to you or near you, you don’t get to choose which age you are when you experience them. Also, I think the subject matter is handled very appropriately. Lost in Paris isn’t a heavy book; we experience Mira’s growing attraction to Degas’ young assistant, her confusion over her time travelings, and more very much as a young adolescent would.
When Mira and her family first arrive in Paris, they see a plaque on a wall commemorating the students of a particular elementary school who were deported to Auschwitz by the Gestapo. We lived in France for a year, in a town called Chambery, and on the wall of my kids’ school there was a similar plaque with 2 names, both girls, who were “learning and laughing and joyful” and were deported and killed “because they were Jewish,” said the sign. We pointed it out to them. These things happened not that long ago. Moss ends the book pointing out that these things are still happening–maybe not to Jews this time, but maybe to another disenfranchised group viewed with suspicion by the general populace.
Mira’s Diary: Lost in Paris is a great book, carefully researched and with a good story line. It’s got everything, like I said–history learned painlessly through a fascinating story, art, a wee bit of romance, mystery (who is that cruel but beautiful woman pursuing Mira’s mother through time?), and much more. I rated this for young adult in addition to middle grade readers, because it’s well written enough that I think older kids would enjoy it too.
I’m thrilled to announce that one of you can win a copy for yourself. Just leave a comment to enter and tell me, did you already know about the Dreyfus affair or is this the first you’ve heard of it? We’ll announce the winner on November 7th.
And read some of author Marissa Moss’ thoughts on how she creates her characters at her “On Reading” post.
Elizabeth thinks it would be awfully fun to visit late-19th-century Paris, and even more fun to be able to come back to her own time and people later. She did know about the Dreyfus affair, but still learned more details from this book. She blogs at Planet Nomad.