Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty

For my first review I’ll start out with one of my favourite young adult novels ever:

 Author: Libba Bray
Plot Summary:
It's 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma's reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she's been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence's most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?


To be honest, I’m not always on board with “Ye Olde” stories, especially ones that take place in the Victorian era. But I loved this. It’s everything the synopsis promises and more. At first you’re wandering along thinking this is going to be a simple magical adventure story with catty girls, but by the end it sinks into your head, leaving you with more to think about once you’re finished reading.  

If you’re into feisty, sarcastic, brave, intelligent, redheaded heroines, Gemma’s your girl. She’s the kind of sixteen-year-old I wish I could have been friends when I was in high school; we could have mocked the popular crowd together in the back of the class, throwing parchment zeppelins at them or … whatever. Unfortunately, she does fine without me. The way she stands up to Felicity and Pippa (the “cool kids” at the British all-girls Victorian boarding school – yes, that’s a thing!), never backing down from what she believes in, yet does it in a completely believable teenaged way, made me adore her. She never took crap from anybody, always active, never passive. The story completely relies on her as a narrator for the story to progress, and does it ever get interesting because of it.  

Her three friends – Anne, Felicity and Pippa – are lovable in a completely unlovable way as well. All three have their faults shaping who they are, and it’s fascinating to watch unfold. The relationship dynamic between the four of them is so spot on for girls that age it’s amazing – they’re petty and selfish, but at the same time they grow into friends through their shared experienced and broken dreams, watching each other’s backs and having the time of their lives with forbidden magical powers. Um, yes please? Nothing pleases me more than healthy female relationships in YA books, which there aren’t enough of. Despite the stuffy time era, the girls are relatable to any group of teenage girls by their interactions – Libba Bray does this wonderfully.

So, obviously I think the characters were awesome, but so was the plot. Like I said, you think it’s simple, but a mystery starts up, and things are revealed about Gemma, her family, and the academy you don’t see coming, becoming a more complicated mess until you can’t tear your eyes away from the book. The stakes became higher and higher, and I couldn’t help but feel for these characters. The more complicated it gets, the darker it gets, revealing a sad yet realistic portrayal of what women had to go through in the 1890s. It’s in this that makes it more than just fun fluff – Bray actually has something to say. 

So, to sum up: Secret realms, Victorian boarding school, witty banter, family intrigue, strong message – GO GEDDIT!

Favourite quote:

"No one asks how I am or what I am doing. They could not care less. We're all looking glasses, we girls, existing only to reflect their images back to them as they'd like to be seen. Hollow vessels of girls to be rinsed of our own ambitions, wants and opinions, just waiting to be filled with the cool, tepid water of gracious complicance."

Creeps me right out …

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