The Lace Dowry

The Lace Dowry

Andrea Cheng

A mother and a daughter, and a friendship that changes the world.

Dowry. The word sounds like something from the Middle Ages. “Mama, I don’t need a dowry,” I say quickly. “Nobody in Budapest has a dowry anymore.”

Twelve-year-old Juli wants neither a dowry nor the dancing lessons that her mother has long planned for her. Studious and smart, Juli dreams of a career, not of marriage. But her mother insists, and together they make regular trips to the countryside to check on the progress of the large lace tablecloth commissioned for her dowry.

  • Ages: 11 - 14
  • Grades: 6 - 9
  • Pages: 116

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Recent Reviews

Nicely paced for classroom read-alouds, the novel raises great questions for discussions: Is it okay to lie and steal to help someone else? Why do traditions continue?


Juli is surprised and angry to learn that her domineering mother has been saving for years to purchase a lace tablecloth for her dowry; no one in Budapest has dowries in 1933, and marriage is far from the mind of twelve-year-old Juli. Nonetheless, she and her mother travel to Halas, renowned for its lace, to commission the elaborate piece, returning every two months to make a payment and check in on the progress. Over the course of the months, Juli befriends the lacemaker's daughter, a girl her age named Roza, and she is subsequently made aware of the physical detriment caused the lacemakers by their prolonged close work in dim lighting. The central conflict here is that of the relationship of Juli and her mother; their mutual stubbornness precludes their seeing each other's point of view, with Juli perceiving her mother as demanding and uppity, and her mother perceiving her as thankless and unaware. Juli's insistence that the dowry tablecloth is causing Roza's mother to go blind (and her subsequent stealing from her mother to purchase a jeweler's glass for Roza's family) elevates the tension to a new if quickly resolved level. A somewhat overly tidy ending erases all personality conflicts as Juli's mother's obstinacy is excused as wanting what is best for Juli and all past transgressions are forgiven. The story of Juli and Roza is more effectively developed, with themes of country girl/city girl guiding their queries and interests. Stories of overbearing mothers and determined teens are resolutely present, regardless of time and place, and young readers willing to forgive the convenient conclusion will enjoy the universality of the theme. An author's note, linking the story to the author's own Hungarian heritage, is included.

—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Cheng’s story unfolds slowly as each character’s motive exposes itself. Although there are no earth-shattering conflicts in Juli’s life, she experiences the frustrations of growing up with the same intensity that her friend, Roaz, feels about her choices and the lack of options in her life. Juli romanticizes life on the farm in Halas, While her mother struggles to accept her daughter’s decisions. Cheng’s descriptions of Juli’s trips to Halas subtly expose the changes in the girl. It is a well-crafted, gentle story that develops much like a lace tablecloth is created.

—Voice of Youth Advocates

Based on her own family story, Cheng captures Juli’s voice, and that of her difficult mother, directly and simply. The final resolution supplies both enlightenment and a small measure of reassurance in a deftly sketched historical setting.

—Kirkus Reviews

Cheng convincingly depicts Juli's struggle to both connect with and to detach from her mother, and nimbly weaves bits of Hungarian lore into her story.

—Publishers Weekly

With effective subtlety, Cheng chronicles the escalating tension between headstrong mother and daughter as well as between Juli and Roza, whose different backgrounds push them apart as well as bring them together. Cheng presents each of the characters sympathetically and gives this tale, unusual in time and setting, poignant relevance and credibility.

—Horn Book

[T]his sensitive and poignant novel shows that mother-daughter conflicts share central elements in every time and place. … Cheng deftly brings to life the fascinating and vanishing world of lacemaking, drawing on stories from her own family’s history and a visit to the lacemaking museum in Halas, Hungary. But at the heart of the story is the deep and enduring, though inevitably strained, love between Juli and her parents.

—Children's Literature

Written in a deceptively sparse style, Cheng’s novel is an homage to mothers and daughters who seek to understand one another while bridging cultural and generational gaps.

—ALAN Review

The story is based in part on the life of the author's aunt. The Author's Note at the end of the story describes the art of lace making in Kiskunhalas (Halas), Hungary, a tradition begun during the nineteenth century and handed down from mothers and grandmothers. Recommended.

—Library Media Connection

Juli can't understand why her mother would want to spend all of her savings on a lace dowry for her only child. After all, she's only 12, and besides, she doesn't plan to marry-ever. The whole notion of a dowry is old-fashioned, even in Budapest, 1933. Mother and daughter are constantly at odds; one is critical and imposes her own dreams on her child; the other, in turn, is both rebellious and hurtful. Still, they make the railroad trip to Halas, known for its fine lace, every few months to check on the progress of the gift. Juli befriends the lace maker's daughter, Roza, an uneducated farm girl who helps her mother with her handiwork and chores. Despite her mother's harsh opinions of common country folk, Juli dreams of a life in Halas, reading and lying in the grass. When Roza's mother becomes ill, almost blinded by the strain of the minute stitchery, Juli hatches a secret plan to help. Under the ruse of buying shoes for the dance classes her mother insists she attend, she asks for money. She then uses it to buy a pair of magnifying spectacles for her Halas friends. This final deceit leads to a blow-up in which Juli's mother reveals painful information about her own life, which enables her daughter to finally understand and appreciate her. Though the family dynamics are realistically portrayed and fairly universal, the setting and particulars of the story have limited appeal. Still, readers might empathize with the protagonist as she struggles with her mixed emotions.

—School Library Journal

Honors for The Lace Dowry

  • SSLI Honor Book
  • Charlie May Simon Reading List—Arkansas State Library