Cathy Marie Buchanan‘s The Painted Girls is inspired by the real-life Parisian model Marie Von Goethem. It is the story of three sisters whose father died years beforehand and whose mother is an alcoholic. The teenage girls are trying to keep up with rent and put some food in their bellies, that’s all. They go through more than their fair share of heartache and pain.
The only worthwhile job in their arrondissement in Paris is one of a ballerina at the Opera. The oldest sister Antoinette works at the Opera as a stand-in/extra after having effectively failed out of the Etoiles (dancers for the Opera Ballet). Marie, the middle daughter, finds herself speeding through the ranks of the ballet classes and ends up being cast in a stage production. Marie models for Degas on the side, solely for the money he pays his models. The youngest sister, Charlotte, is an overzealous young ballet dancer with no true understanding of the financial straits the family is going through.
When Antoinette becomes enamoured with a no-good street rat and ends up in jail herself, Marie finds herself as the sole provider for their family. She takes on a job at the local bakery AND another modelling job for a creeper who is exploiting her. Things are anything but easy in Marie’s life and she finds herself quitting the Opera ballet to pursue a happier (albeit poorer) life.
These girls! The story had it’s icky moments, that’s for sure, but overall, I found myself really looking forward to reading more and more. The characters are so flawed, but I still felt like I understood them and their issues. A great story!