My poppets, gather round, do! There's a simply scandalous novel you must sit down and read, right away! It's a school story - boarding school. It's set in the Victorian era. There are stern spinsters, callow boys, naughty dogs, and ...dead bodies buried in the garden!
I reviewed an electronic copy of this novel and can't wait to see the finished product. The cover is adorable, but the endpapers and the illustrations of the girls in the front pages are going to be wonderful, when it all comes together.
Summary: Seven young ladies, enrolled in a school for girls, are kept in fairly straitened circumstances, under the leadership of stern Headmistress Mrs. Plackett, and her rude and coarse brother, Mr. Godding. At Sunday dinner, the two are rather abruptly poisoned...
There are many reasons the girls are enrolled at the school. Roberta Pratley's only offense is being a stepdaughter. Her Stepmama sends her off at once to Saint Etheldreda's School for Young Ladies to strengthen her weak brain. She must have one, seeing as the poor dear grew so fast she's nearly as tall as a man, and she's always crashing about, tripping over herself. Mary Jane Marshall's offense is... a bit disgraceful. Her mother has locked her away at Saint Etheldreda's in order to keep her from turning up behind back doors and in hall closets with unsuitable young men. Martha Boyle ...well, everyone calls her dull, but... perhaps the nicest thing that can be said is that she has a lovely voice and a gift for the piano. Yes, let's just say that. Meanwhile, Alice Brooks has a big heart - and if the rest of her is plus sized as well, it shouldn't exactly be a crime, should it? Katherine Heaton is a smooth operator -- and she learned it at her railway magnate Daddy's knee. Too bad he doesn't think she can learn, being only a girl. Louise Dudley is only twelve, but she burns with intelligence - and, after surviving smallpox, she burns with the desire to be a doctor. Her parents have instead burned her chemistry set, and hope that Saint Etheldreda's might burn the desire out of her. Elinor Siever's watchword is "memento mortis" - remember death. Unfortunately, she doesn't tend to remember much else. Saint Etheldreda's School for Young Ladies is meant to change her dour nature into a lively, spritely one.
Seven ladies enrolled in a finishing school - and seven impossible dreams dreamt by those who sent them there. Seven ladies who, nevertheless are plucky, doughty, bright, sly, deceptive, and conniving as the day is long. Seven young ladies who, after Sunday dinner are going to be without a Headmistress -- and these young ladies of Saint Etheldreda's are going to make the most of it.
Peaks: This was a snicker-fest, a frothy cake of hysteria, bewilderment and sisterhood. The girls know that their Headmistress has been murdered - that's no spoiler. The question of why they choose to stay in a house where there's been a double-murder? That's a bit more complicated. Sniffing a whiff of freedom makes you do any number of crazy things... and, if you're young and impressionable and have a smooth-talker and a disgraceful operator shoving you along... if you actually are happy in the place you've landed, away from your pesky little brothers, annoying Stepmama or ice cold father, it might be worth showing a little spirit, a little grit -- and it might be worth shoveling a bit -- to stay there. This story is just a gem.
Valleys: Honestly, there are no valleys - though, I might question that this is marketed to middle school. Because of its humor and the complicated farce, as well as the novel's themes of friendship, I think it might fare better as YA (nothing to do with the murders, though - they're fairly bloodless). The Victorian language is simply turgid and overwrought at times, but the author doesn't let it slow her down. The sentence structure might give some readers a few tiny problems, as sentences tend to be longer and descriptive, reflecting the time period of the novel's setting, but it really shouldn't inconvenience most young readers. The novel is funny and fresh and a hoot. Though they're covering up a murder, the girls aren't stupid - they each know, in their heart of hearts, that their lease on freedom is short. The novel reads like watching someone running with a full glass of water, and knowing that they're going to trip -- you can't really do anything about it but watch with a slightly horrified expression as the twists and turns of the plot keep going and going -- and all the mile-high pile of deceptions come tumbling down.
I received a copy of this novel courtesy of Roaring Brook Press. After September 23rd, you can find THE SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD OF PRICKWILLOW PLACE by Julie Berry online, or at an independent bookstore near you!