The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway / Ashley Schumacher / Book Review

 Ever since she lost her mother, Madeline has kept meticulous notes of her life. She doesn't want to miss anything--not her father doing leatherwork, her best friend FaceTime session, or any of the everyday annoyances of working the Renaissance Faire circuit. That's why this summer is so important: it's a summer for noticing. Madeline doesn't want to forget any part of this summer, especially since they'll be back at the last faire her mom ever worked. Madeline is ready for a summer of contemplation, of remembering. Not a summer of change.

But Arthur throws a wrench in her plans. Not only has the faire itself changed thanks to the new, wealthy owners who bought the ground--and just so happen to be Arthur's dads. Arthur isn't content just to let Madeline wallow in her note-taking. He recruits her to be Princess of the Faire instead, if a rather reluctant one. And the worst part is, she might just, kind of, be having fun...


I loved this book more than I can really describe. It isn't my usual favorite read, and that makes it all the better. I was surprised and delighted by how much I enjoyed this read. The atmosphere, the characters: everything here is fun, well-crafted, and just a great reading experience. 


  • Fantasy Motifs: Though this story is set in the contemporary age, adding the trappings of ren-faire-style fantasy really lends magic to the mundane. This sense of everyday magic, the whimsical encapsulated in the ordinary, is something I remember well from Schumacher's Amelia Unabridged, and I'm glad this book embraces that touch of fantasy, too. Schumacher creates an atmosphere that I want to be a part of--and that almost feels tangible, given its proximity to, you know, reality. I wanted to be absorbed by this world. 
  • Banter: There's really no substitute for character chemistry, and Schumacher's characters play off each other so well. A reluctant princess and a charismatic bard create a great dynamic. These characters push each other's buttons (but never each other's boundaries). Arthur pokes and prods Madeline to get what he wants, but he never pushes too far. She has a choice--she is, after all, the princess here--and she knows it. I love when characters push each other to grow, and Schumacher encapsulates that here. Witty banter just a bonus. 
  • Healing: Despite the whimsy of this tale, grief and the trauma of parental loss do play a significant part in this story. But this isn't a raw wound for Madeline. She has had a year to process her loss, and while she has by no means moved on (nor should she have), she has had the space to grieve. And this opens her up for growth, exploration, coming back into her life after her initial period of mourning. I love that this story starts with a character ready to heal, and I love that Madeline does, even if those steps toward healing are messy, uneven, and not-quite-complete. 


  • Too Understanding: Madeline always has her reasons for pushing Arthur away, both good and bad, but that doesn't mean that Arthur should just take this. Sometimes Arthur is being perfectly friendly, and Madeline's response is very harsh--unreasonably so, to an outsider who can't hear her internal monologue. She's got her reasons, but she doesn't communicate them. Arthur can't know what's on her mind, and so the fact that he just takes it, gives her space, simply understands in all of these situations... It just doesn't feel realistic. That's part of the fantasy element here, sure. Arthur is everything that Madeline needs at this time, including supernaturally understanding of her (uncommunicated) grief and trauma. But I still didn't like this. It sets an unreasonable standard. We shouldn't aim for supernatural understanding but instead great communication in a relationship. 
  • On-the-Page Boundaries: Madeline's faced some significant loss. Of course she's going to be wary of letting anyone in close. Why would she want to create a close bond when she could just lose that new friend, too? That all feels very realistic. Less realistic, to my mind, was that she... outright states this? She might not say it aloud, but she thinks, in no uncertain terms and not quite infrequently, "yeah, I don't believe in having friends because my mom died." It feels odd to have this so clearly acknowledged on the page. Sure, she doesn't want new friends. And sure, that stems from her recent loss. But the utter coherence seems too much. Of course, this book is by no means an outlier in this regard. A lot of MG and YA books with grief at the center do put these types of intangible feelings into explicit words. That's just part of the genre. But I kind of wish it wasn't. I wish more was left unsaid, for us to connect the dots instead. 
  • Communication Drama: Anyone who has read past reviews know that I really hate this. I hate when drama between a couple--or a friend group, even--could be easily resolved just by communicating. Put the facts out there. What did you see? What did you overhear? What did this make you think and feel? Mistaken motives cause tension in this book, unnecessarily, and while it doesn't take long for Arthur and Madeline to sort this out, I wish they would have just hashed it out at the inception instead of letting it come between them at all. 



Fans of the whimsical bookstore of Ashley Schumacher's Amelia Unabridged will love this new magic-in-the-mundane story. Those who appreciated Joan F. Smith's The Half-Orphan's Handbook will love this chance to grieve, heal, and grow. 


Publisher: Wednesday Books
Date: March 14, 2022
Series: N/A
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Note: I was provided with an ARC by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions here are my own.


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