In 1930s England, Bea’s parents are determined that she should become a proper lady, but she’d rather be studying insects. So when she mortifies her parents yet again (in a dinner scene that involves a discussion of the mating habits of glowworms, the local vicar and the word fecundity), they send her to Italy so her strict Uncle Leo can set her straight.
Bea arrives to discover that her uncle’s fiancée, Filomena, has turned his once stuffy villa into an artists’ haven. Rather than polishing her manners, Bea will spend her summer studying art with Ben, an obnoxious though decidedly handsome painter. In an effort to keep Ben’s ego in check and to give Bea a taste of the romance she craves—in the interest of scientific inquiry, of course—friends dare Bea and Ben to start up a summer fling, but it soon becomes clear that they’re both in for far more than they bargained for.
Under a Dancing Star is an effervescent retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, in which author Laura Wood transplants Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick to an artists’ colony in Tuscany. There, young Bea is encouraged to explore her passions under the watchful but mischief-minded eyes of her new friends.
Wood’s second YA novel resurrects the dazzle that made her first, 2020’s A Sky Painted Gold, such a gem. Readers will be immersed in the electric heat of an Italian summer, surrounded by vibrant characters and inspired by their free-flowing conversations and progressive ideals.
Although Wood treats the political tensions in Italy on the eve of World War II seriously, the novel’s primary focus is Bea’s personal journey. In the beginning, she’s a witty and intelligent girl who’s unhappy with the status quo but uncertain how to define her ambitions. Over the course of her transformative summer, it’s heartening to see Bea’s evolution into a self-assured young woman who is determined to chart her own course. And if readers fall just a little bit in love with Ben in the meantime, well, who could blame them?