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Four starred reviews!

A “quietly triumphant” (Horn Book Magazine) and atmospheric YA story of romance, mystery, and power about a young woman discovering her strength in lush, sultry Venice—from the Printz Honor–winning author of A Heart in a Body in the World.

When Charlotte wins a scholarship to a writing workshop in Venice with the charismatic and brilliant Luca Bruni, it’s a dream come true. Writing is her passion, she loves Bruni’s books, and going to that romantic and magical sinking city gives her the chance to solve a long-time family mystery about a Venetian poet deep in their lineage, Isabella Di Angelo, who just might be the real author of a very famous poem.

Bruni’s villa on the eerie island of La Calamita is extravagant—lush beyond belief, and the other students are both inspiring and intimidating. Venice itself is beautiful, charming, and seductive, but so is Luca Bruni. As his behavior becomes increasingly unnerving, and as Charlotte begins to unearth the long-lost work of Isabella with the help of sweet, smart Italian Dante, other things begin to rise, too—secrets about the past…and secrets about the present.

As the events of the summer build to a shattering climax, Charlotte will be forced to confront some dark truths about the history of powerful men—and about the determination of creative girls.

Chapter One Chapter One
Lucchesia Sbarra, poet.

Published Rime, and possibly another volume, both lost.

(1576–unknown)

Picture it—the exact coordinates where Charlotte’s life will change and never change back: a table in the Seattle Public Library. On it—the book Biographical Encyclopedia of Literature: Sixteenth Century. Above—an angled ceiling of enormous glass panes, which makes the library feel like a space colony of the future. Just ahead—yellow escalators and green elevators, shades of disco-era neon that sometimes give Charlotte a migraine.

Now picture Charlotte herself—her long dark braid is over one shoulder. She’s wearing a sweatshirt, zipped all the way up, which looks kind of goofy, but who cares—she’s always cold. She’s trying to write a report on a long-ago female Renaissance poet Isabella di Angelo but can only find information about the guy everyone already knows about, Antonio Tasso. There’s tons and tons of stuff about Tasso and his poetry. But all she’s been able to unearth about Isabella di Angelo is this one fact, repeated again and again. Charlotte’s brown eyes stare down at it: Tasso’s longtime paramour. Paramour: old-fashioned word for someone Tasso had sex with.

Charlotte’s good friend Yasmin is across from her, studying for her macroeconomics test and sucking on sour apple Jolly Ranchers. Yas loves those. Whenever she leans over to talk to Charlotte, her breath is a great burst of fake-apple sweet. Charlotte’s boyfriend, Adam, is there too. He sits to her right, his knees touching hers under the table, the sleeves of his hoodie pushed up to his elbows. He’s always touching her like this, like she’s his lucky rock, or like he’s worried she’ll run off if he doesn’t hang on.

Nate sprawls in the chair next to Yasmin. They’ve been together since sophomore year, and Nate has stopped working out, and he has a little splootch of belly over his stomach, and he’s on his third day in that Kurt Cobain T-shirt, and this bothers Yasmin because he doesn’t seem to be trying anymore. Also, his pits have a slightly tangy odor, which is a constant problem for Yas. It’s the end of spring quarter, right before break, and Charlotte and Yasmin have serious stuff to do, because they’re perpetual overachievers with lots of AP classes, and graduation is coming. Charlotte’s got this term paper, which is going nowhere, and Yasmin’s final is going to be brutal.

Adam and Nate are just fucking around, though. Nate made a triangle football out of a note card, and Adam has his hands up like goalposts, and they’re flicking it back and forth and making whoops of victory and Aw!s of defeat, and they’re basically being way too loud for a library. A guy with a big beard and a backpack scowls at them. A little kid stares, wide-eyed, like they’re a riveting puppet show, maybe wishing he could get away with stuff like that.

“Guys, stop,” Yasmin says. “Show some maturity.” She sounds like her mother right then, Charlotte thinks. Yasmin’s mom is very serious, and always on her case about her grades even though she gets straight As. But Charlotte wants them to knock it off too. She and Yas are both the polite, anxious sort of people who worry about getting in trouble. She wishes she weren’t, but she can’t help it.

Nate tries to grab Yasmin’s butt, and she pulls away, annoyed. Charlotte looks up to see if the librarian is watching.

And that’s when it happens: Charlotte’s eyes scoot in a fateful arc, from Nate’s hand on Yasmin’s butt, across the space of the library, stopping just short of the librarian’s desk, because there it is, that flyer. It’s posted on a noticeboard hanging on the wall by the bank of escalators. She’s not sure why she didn’t see it before, because the words practically call out to her now, which is a cliché, but true.

Anything about writing calls out to her, though. Short-story contests, ads in the Stranger for writing classes, articles online. New notebooks, packages of pens, fat blocks of printer paper. Anything that has to do with writing has drawn her since she wrote her first story, “The Land of the Mixed-Up Animals,” when she was seven. Wait, no. Anything about writing has pulled her in probably since she was five and read this line in Where the Wild Things Are: That very night in Max’s room a forest grew. Is that beautiful or what? Words were forests to explore in your very own room, warm tents to hide in, and magic cloaks that transformed you. I’LL EAT YOU UP! Max shouts to his mother, so words also let you be what you wished you could be—impolite and bold, someone who could talk back and get into trouble and not care.

After that book, even when she was that little, Charlotte would run to her room to madly scratch out some idea, and since then, piles of stories grew, her own forest where she could be wild. Her mind started to be a writer’s mind, with ideas constantly falling forward like an annoying wisp of hair you have to keep pushing aside. She stumbled on a secret: writing was a place she could be honest in ways she couldn’t in real life. And after that incredible discovery, all the sentences were roads leading to something meant, and all the ideas she’d urriedly scratch down were doorways to her future. She never wanted to be a veterinarian, then an astronaut, then a scientist, like most kids. Only a writer. And that report she’s working on, about that poet from way back in the 1500s? Isabella di Angelo was a great-great-great-(too many greats to count)-grandmother on her mother’s side, so, see? Isabella’s existence is proof that writing is in Charlotte’s blood.

A lot of people (okay, her father) don’t take her and her writing seriously. He acts like she’s making pictures with macaroni and glitter. But she has the will and intention of an artist already, even if she’s young and has a lot to learn. She’s making art right now, like you do when you’re an apprentice, and so is her friend Rebecca (photography), and Dara (painting), and if you don’t think so, you’re wrong, Charlotte’s sure. Her biggest dream: to say something that says something. How great would it be, to be one of those young writers you hear about, published ridiculously young? Her own photo in an artistic black-and-white on a jacket flap—can you even imagine it? She can. She does. She believes it can happen. She wants it. She can feel that want like a fire inside. No, that’s a cliché, too, and you’re supposed to avoid those, if you’re a writer. But the point is, it burns like a passion does.

Charlotte rises from her chair. “Hey,” Adam says. He reaches out to tug the tail of her sweatshirt to bring her back to him. He thinks she’s mad at him for being obnoxious in the library. But she just wants to see that flyer. From there, she can only read the words Aspiring Writers.

Up close now… Wow. It’s advertising a new summer study abroad program, one you have to apply for. It looks expensive. Very. So, no way. It’s in Italy, on a private island, La Calamita, across the water from Venice. She’s never even heard of that island, and Italy feels like a planet in another cosmos. There’s a photo of a villa. Her family could never afford that.

But wait.

In smaller print: Scholarships Available.

Her heart actually speeds up with thrill-fear. But then, she sees another daunting phrase: College Students. She isn’t one now, but she will be in the fall. Does that even count? She’ll be enrolled. Technically, she’ll be one, right? There’s nothing about age, but, God, she’d probably be the youngest one there. This gives her an anxious whoosh of intimidation. She spins the rings on her fingers like she does when she gets nervous.

There’s also a romantic, grainy photo of a Venetian canal, with a gondolier guiding his boat under a bridge. It’s a basic shout of Venice, but who cares. It’s not corny or unoriginal to her. Not at all. It feels like fate. She’s in that library right this minute studying Isabella di Angelo, and Isabella di Angelo lived and died in Venice way back in the 1500s. Her mother’s side of the family was there for eons until her grandma moved to the US as a little girl. What are the odds? It feels like an offering, meant just for her.

Charlotte’s never even been on an airplane. A place like Venice is so hard to imagine, it almost doesn’t seem real—a postcard place. But now, look. She’s actually touching the glossy paper.

She removes the pushpin and takes the pamphlet down to examine it more closely. And that’s when something even more stunning and astonishing and terrifying and marvelous occurs, because inside the fold is Luca Bruni’s photo. She knows this photo; of course she does. It’s the one where he’s straddling a chair, his thin shoulders leaning toward the camera, his long arms folded. His hair is kind of a mess, and his nose is a mountain on his narrow face, but his dark eyes look right at you, into you.

Luca Bruni! Holy shit, Luca Bruni has a summer abroad writing program in Venice!

It’s incredible. God. God! He’s one of her favorite writers ever. Just the thought of him gives Charlotte that very particular reader’s pleasure, a sigh mixed with a thrill. Just the thought of him also gives her that particular writer’s pleasure, a sigh mixed with awe. Under his image, there’s a small paragraph with his bio, but who needs it? Who doesn’t know him? He’s known all over the world, a celebrity, the way only the tiniest handful of authors are.

As she stands in the library holding the pamphlet, Charlotte’s heart begins to thump in double-espresso time. Above her is the futuristic ceiling, and all around her are words, old words, new words, words from when Isabella di Angelo walked the stone streets of Venice in 1573. But more importantly, Luca Bruni stares up at her from that pamphlet, and two shelves over and four shelves up are some of the most beautiful words she’s ever read. She can lead you right to it, Luca Bruni’s shelf.

The words inside A Mile of Faces are so beautiful. The words inside Under the Sudden Sky, The Tide of Years, The Forever King, and The Glass Ship (oh, especially that one) are beautiful too. All of Luca Bruni’s work is beautiful, and powerful, and meaningful, and raging, and funny, and soul-crushing, and life-changing, full of blood and bone shards and heartbeats. And in his interviews, Luca Bruni himself is powerful, and meaningful, and raging, and funny; arrogant, and tender, but sometimes cruel, too, full of blood and bone shards and heartbeats.

This is what she knows more than anything else as she stands there, clutching the pamphlet, her chest filling with hope. She knows this without a doubt: Luca Bruni’s words—they will shatter you.

There’s something she doesn’t know, though. Not yet.

His words will shatter you, but so might he.
Reading Group Guide for

One Great Lie

By Deb Caletti

About the Book

Think of your favorite author. Not just someone whose books you like, but a writer whose work means so much to you that the phrase “favorite author” seems frivolous and nondescriptive. The author whose words burst through every wall and every belief you may have had so that they touch your soul. The one whose work you turn to and return to and cherish. Now imagine that you get to meet this author and spend time with them. Should you expect more from them than what they have already given? Do you owe them anything in return for what their words have given you over the years? In One Great Lie, Charlotte’s favorite writer is Luca Bruni; when she earns a spot in his summer writing workshop in Italy, she cannot believe her luck. Once she’s there, however, the dynamics of the group become strained and cause Charlotte stress. Luca can be angry and difficult to please, and tensions rise between the students as they vie for Luca’s attention. Thankfully, Charlotte has the search for information about her ancestor, a poetess, to distract her when things become too much. But when Luca turns his full attention to Charlotte, she does not know how to respond. Can she find a way to pursue her writing dreams without giving up too much of herself?

Discussion Questions

1. Why does the author begin each chapter with a biography of a female Italian writer? What do you notice that many have in common? Are there any recurring themes? Why do you think these sections are so short? Do they have any relevance to Charlotte’s story? Explain your answers using examples from the novel.

2. How would you characterize Charlotte’s relationship with Adam? Does she love him? Why does she break up with him? How does his reaction to the breakup compare to his behavior throughout the rest of their relationship?

3. Charlotte describes herself and Yas as “the polite, anxious sort of people who worry about getting into trouble.” How does this character trait show itself throughout the story? Are any of her actions surprising, knowing that she sees herself as this sort of person? Do you think she changes her view of herself over the course of the book?

4. Why is Charlotte drawn to words and writing? What inspires her? Why is Luca Bruni her favorite author?

5. Why do Charlotte’s parents fight so much? What are their roles in these arguments? How does their fighting affect Charlotte and Ella?

6. Why does Charlotte feel sorry for people who have never loved the work of a particular artist? Do you think she still feels this way by the end of the story? Have you ever felt so strongly about an artist? Explain your answers.

7. The first thing people seem to notice about Carly is her looks. How do you think Carly would describe herself? What do you think she would want people to know about her? Why is Charlotte so disappointed when Luca notices Carly’s eyes at the book signing? How does physical appearance contribute to the way people are viewed? Give other examples of where you see this happening in the novel, and how it affects the characters and situations.

8. How do the Venetian locals feel about Luca? How can you tell? Do you think any of them really know him?

9. Luca is prone to outbursts of anger; we see this after Katerina falls in the canal, when someone challenges his writing, and elsewhere. How do different students react to his fits of rage? What feelings do they bring up for Charlotte? What do her instincts tell her to do after each of them?

10. Why do you think Charlotte makes the impulsive decision to bring Isabella’s book with her to Italy? Why is it important to her that she find more information about Isabella’s life and work? Do these reasons change over the course of the story? What effect do the revelations about Isabella’s life have on Charlotte?

11. Why does Charlotte hesitate to post the photo of her and Luca on social media? What is Luca’s attitude toward being treated like a famous person? Why does Charlotte eventually decide to post the photo? How do you feel about her decision?

12. Bethany tells the students that in the past, “‘Female writers, too, had to be ushered into public acceptance by the praise of a male writer.’” Is this still true today? Does this statement make you feel differently about Luca’s actions toward Charlotte and the others? Explain your answers.

13. When Luca first turns his attention to Charlotte, she says, “‘The words are larger than any of the weird stuff that’s going on now, aren’t they? What those words do, how they affect people, they’re worth more than how he might affect people in real life, right?’” Do you think this is true? Does Charlotte believe it? Do you think you can separate a person’s work from the things they do in real life? Explain your answers.

14. When Dante finds Charlotte at the festival, she is “so, so happy to see him. It’s so normal. He is, they are. It’s such a relief.” What do you think she means by “normal”? How does her relationship with Dante compare to her relationship with Adam or Luca? Why is her relationship with Dante so important to her?

15. Why do you think Luca makes his students write about what haunts them? Do you think it’s a coincidence that he only chooses people for the program who are haunted by something from their pasts? What parts of Charlotte’s upbringing and personality make her particularly susceptible to Luca’s attentions? How does Luca take advantage of his position of power and influence?

16. During their special one-on-one excursion, Luca brings Charlotte to a convent. How does this make Charlotte feel? What parallels does this create between Isabella and Charlotte, as far as their freedom and their abilities to have their voices heard? Does Luca understand Charlotte as deeply as she had hoped he did? How does her trip compare to Katerina’s?

17. Does Luca think that Charlotte has talent? Why does Charlotte question this? How do Luca’s actions affect Charlotte’s desire to write?

18. Luca’s advances are particularly upsetting to the girls because he is charming and they want to please him. Charlotte describes his gaze as “a force of energy. . . . It’s the kind of energy that makes you want things. Him, even, or maybe just to give him things. You, but not your body exactly. Just the truth of you.” How do these types of conflicting feelings confuse the situation? Does the fact that the girls enjoy his attention take away their right to protest his advances? Do you think they owe him anything for all the help he’s given them with their writing, and for choosing them to participate in the program?

19. What is the “one great lie” that the title names? How much has changed from Isabella’s time to now? Do you think men have changed the way they treat creative women? Explain your answers.

Extension Activities

1. Take Luca Bruni’s writing course: Choose something that haunts you, and write a short story about it. Focus on voice, setting, and other aspects of writing that Luca mentions during the summer course. Read your story aloud to a small group of classmates or friends and ask for their suggestions.

2. Between La Calamita and meals with Dante and Maria, Charlotte enjoys many long meals with traditional Italian dishes. Choose one of the dishes mentioned in the book, or find a cookbook with traditional Italian recipes, and learn how to cook it. Share it with your friends and family.

3. Fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy is not the only place and time where female artists had trouble being taken seriously and finding recognition for their work. Find an example of a female artist who either had to make sacrifices to have her work known or was punished for having talent. Write a short report about the artist you have chosen, and brainstorm ways to make her story known.

4. Maria has made the Alta Acqua Libreria into a shop that reflects her interests and beliefs, as well as the history of her city. What would your dream bookstore look like? What kind of books would you carry? How would they be arranged? What would the space look like? Draw a picture or write a description of your ideal bookstore.

5. Dante is passionate about restoring the books and letters that were damaged in the flood. Every family has at least one item—a photo, a letter, a book—that is important to them, but that has been damaged. Research ways that such an item could be restored. Is there a specialist in your area who could restore the item? Are there some simple fixes that you could use to stop the deterioration? Are there places nearby that work to preserve historical records and objects? What is the danger in losing these records?

6. While in Venice, Charlotte participates in several festivals that move her deeply. Is there a local festival that celebrates the history of your area? Even if you’ve gone since you were a child, try going into the festival with fresh eyes, as though you were seeing it for the first time. What aspects of it strike you? If you’re not aware of a local festival, what kind would you like to see put together? What would it celebrate? What kinds of activities would it include?

Guide written by Cory Grimminck, Director of the Portland District Library in Michigan.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.
Photograph © Susan Doupé

Deb Caletti is the award-winning and critically acclaimed author of over sixteen books for adults and young adults, including Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, a finalist for the National Book Award; A Heart in a Body in the World, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book; Girl, Unframed; and One Great Lie. Her books have also won the Josette Frank Award for Fiction, the Washington State Book Award, and numerous other state awards and honors, and she was a finalist for the PEN USA Award. She lives with her family in Seattle.

* "Printz Honoree Caletti leads her readers through intertwined stories of sexual harassment and misogyny with assurance and a fierce feminism, all while steeping her prose in sensory detail that creates an atmosphere of mystery."

– Booklist, Starred Review

* "[A] work that is respectful and restrained yet powerful and emotional. . .The introspective and quiet narrative is beautifully written, with rich sensory details and nuanced explorations of sexuality, artistic motivation, loneliness, and jealousy . . . " 

– School Library Journal, Starred Review

* "Third-person–present narration foreshadows the dreadful events to come, giving the story a fairy-tale tone and inspiring readers to absorb every luminous detail as the narrative slows down to describe Venice in gorgeous, flowing prose. . . A potent story of how one young woman finds the power to write her own story."

– Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

* "The incisive and sharply written, place-laden book balances its contemporary #MeToo narrative with Charlotte’s passionate investigation . . . watching Charlotte [is] empowering." 

– Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"Sumptuous descriptions bring the cityscape to life as Charlotte basks in both Venice’s haunting beauty and (at least at first) Bruni’s intoxicating presence . . . Caletti weaves the lives of [two] striving artists together with an expert hand . . ."

– Horn Book Magazine

"Caletti superbly depicts a powerful man accustomed to seduction as a perk of position . . . Readers may find this puts experiences of their own into context, and it will certainly give them insight into the questionable power of celebrity and talent." 

– BCCB

More books from this author: Deb Caletti