The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan. One look at the beautiful cover showing a Degas painting and I was hooked on this story about three sisters living in poverty in Paris in the late 1800s. Their father has died due to poor working conditions and their depressed mother has slipped into an absinthe addiction to escape the drudgery of trying to take care of her family as a laundress. The girls are forced to work as dancers at the Paris Opera, earning just enough to survive, but the competition is fierce and the oldest sister, Antoinette, loses her position and falls into a relationship with a young man who is accused of murder.
other sisters are also working as dancers with 14 year old Marie
showing the most promise. She is naturally gifted but has trouble
asserting herself over the other dancers. When the painter Degas takes
notice of her, she finds another way to earn money and begins posing for
him in his studio and must walk the line between her desperation and
The book is told from both girls’ point of view
and portrays the seamier side of Paris and the struggle between survival
and maintaining your dignity in a society that values only beauty and
opulence. The descriptions of the city and Parisian life are both
beautiful and horrible, but the Van Goethem sister’s tenacity and spunk
will keep you engaged throughout the book.
If you're looking for more works of historical fiction inspired by the works of great artists, check out this read alike post for The Painted Girls.