From Linus's Blanket Cathy Marie Buchanan captivated me with her first novel, The Day The Falls Stood Still, so I had high expectations for herThe Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan 215x323 Readings: Marmee and Louisa by Eve LaPlante & The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan follow-up novel The Painted Girls. I wasn’t disappointed. She chooses a fascinating angle for her novel of two sisters growing up in the desperate poverty of 19th century Paris.There are three Van Goethem sisters, but Buchanan’s narrative alternates between the perspectives of the book smart Marie, who after being pulled from school after the death of their debt-ridden father, dutifully applies herself to the arduous training of a ballet dancer as a way to contribute to the family’s meager earnings, and Antoinette, the eldest of the girls. Antoinette does her best to protect her sisters from life’s harsh realities even as her own troubled romance and unrelenting deprivation force her to contemplate thievery and prostitution. Marie eventually gets a position posing for Degas, a rising artist of the time, and Antoinette finds work in the cast of a popular Zola adaptation. Both artist and writer are exploring the role of criminality and society through their works and are heavily influenced by Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso, a man who posits that destiny is determined by facial structure, and heavy animal like features are indicative of criminality and vice – features Marie fretfully worries over in her own face.Buchanan is a skilled weaver of history into the realities of everyday life and she outdoes herself here. Paris, that famed City of Light, comes to life vividly through the smells on the streets, the meanness of its people, the filth of their clothes and the desperation of their toil. It is clear that girls have it worse, and the Van Goethem sisters embody how few the choices and opportunities available to women who would try to better their circumstances or to merely escape their poverty – the cost often being their innocence and respectability. Buchanan excels at showcasing the girl’s distinctive personalities, voice, and approach to life. Each of their narratives are both compelling and heartbreaking and as close as if either of them was whispering her story in your ear. The Painted Girl has elements of mystery – a rash of gruesome murders has been committed, and the unease of the city is palpable – but mostly it is an exquisitely rendered love story between these sisters, and the sacrifices they make to ease each others burdens while striving to better their lives in a world where the odds are highly stacked against them. Highly Recommended.