Madeline Hathaway grew up traveling the country with her family and working a circuit of Renaissance faires. While living in an RV and going to school online, Maddie spent her days surrounded by faux kings and wizards. She was happy with this unconventional upbringing until her mother died of cancer.
Now, almost a year after her mother’s death, Maddie constantly searches for ways to grief-proof her life. She keeps a journal filled with “noticing pages,” where she tallies everything from therapy sessions to cups of tea. She believes that if she can observe and record everything, she’ll be able to keep all the mundane, precious details of the people she loves safe in her memory.
But when the circuit brings Maddie and her father back to Stormsworth, her mother’s favorite and final fair, it’s no longer the same as in Maddie’s perfectly protected memories. Stormsworth’s new owners have made big changes, turning the previously quaint fair into a high-budget attraction.
What’s more, cheerful Arthur, the son of Stormsworth’s new owners, seems determined to break down all the careful castle walls Maddie has built around her heart. Arthur insists on calling Maddie “Gwen” and declares that it’s her destiny to play the role of the fair’s princess, then drags her into the part. But could this charming bard with a penchant for playing pop songs on his lute have ulterior motives? Maddie’s grumpy resistance to Arthur’s unbridled enthusiasm makes for an entertaining dynamic full of banter and slow-burn sweetness.
Amid all the courtly whimsy, Maddie’s feelings of grief are grounded and tender, with her journals and other coping mechanisms providing insight into her quiet desperation for control over her life. Maddie’s love for her mother is gently but powerfully woven throughout her first-person narration, as every aspect of the newly transformed Stormsworth calls bittersweet memories to mind.
Compounding these emotions are other relatable teenage worries, such as a lack of experience with her peers after a lifetime of home-schooling and feelings of self-consciousness and ambivalence toward how the world perceives her as a girl in a larger body. Author Ashley Schumacher treats all of Maddie’s emotions with the care they deserve, making each catharsis she experiences feel like a triumph.
The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway is a funny, sincere story of healing grief and blooming love in a place where the dragons might be papier-maché, but the magic is real.