Picks and Pans Review: The Virgin Blue

updated 08/18/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/18/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By Tracy Chevalier

As she did in her 2000 bestseller Girl with a Pearl Earring, Chevalier brings a distant time and place vividly alive. The Virgin Blue is actually her first novel, but it is being published in America for the first time. It begins in 16th-century France, where peasant girl Isabelle du Moulin's brown hair suddenly turns auburn, believed to be the Virgin Mary's hair color. In the present, American midwife-in-training Ella Turner is having a tough time adjusting to life in France, where she has nightmares involving an intense shade of blue. The two stories overlap and intertwine eerily as Chevalier explores themes of family, religion and cultural dislocation. (Plume, $14)

BOTTOM LINE: Elegantly drawn

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