Published by Barrington Stoke.
Review by Robyn Colclough.
Historical novelist Mary Hoffman returns to Renaissance Italy in her latest novel Tilt. Set in 1299, it explores the complex creation of Pisa’s most iconic building through the eyes of a young girl called Simonetta, known as Netta. But will the constricting nature of a 13th Century patriarchal society limit her curiosity, commitment and courage to help tackle the problem of Pisa’s leaning tower?
The story follows the Pisano family, great sculptors and stone-carvers, who are attempting to resolve the undeniable ‘tilt’ of Pisa’s tower. Netta is the only daughter of her father, a famous and renowned sculptor who is head mason of the tower’s construction. But Netta’s desire to break gender barriers and study the architecture and mathematics of the magnificent build is a confusing hindrance to her father, Giovanni Pisano. However, Netta’s determination and passion drives the story forward; her need to be a part of the Pisano legacy being her main priority, rather than learning her future duties as a housewife.
It is Netta’s willingness to strive for change for women that makes the story so relevant and gripping. Although it would be extremely unlikely that a girl in that time would get close to such a role as mason work, it is a fascinating story that aims to show that women can achieve as highly as men. Her characterisation is one of the best things about this story, and is a fantastic role model for young girls. Netta’s resentment for marriage and her keen focus on the, now famous, Leaning Tower of Pisa ultimately gives her agency, especially in a time when women were only considered mothers and housewives.
I especially praise Hoffman on the readability of Tilt. The book is aimed at children or dyslexic teens, and it is a brilliantly creative way to engage readers with the history of Pisa, as well as the problems of inequality at the time. It is an especially great read for young girls, allowing them to see that even in a time of extreme gender inequality, this girl has the passion and desires to make her as brilliant as the men.
Overall I would say that this is a great read for the target audience. It is simple, yet has a great focus on gender equality and the history of the time. It must be noted that it is clear how much time and research has been put into the construction of the story, the specifics of Pisa’s tilt and the architecture of the tower; all are described with precision. I would recommend this book to any young reader because of its engaging nature and the way in which it tackles relevant issues of the 21st century, as well as being historically accurate.