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by Libba Bray

Review by Abby Goldsmith, 2006

This young adult book takes place in 1895 England, in a boarding school that trains wealthy girls to be socialites. It involves magic, adventure, girls, snobs, innocence, and classism.

I didn't know a thing about the author until the end of the book. When I was listening, I knew right away that it was written by someone in the modern era, but I would have guessed the author was British. I learned afterwards that she grew up in 1980s Texas, in (I assume) relatively normal circumstances. So the book gets cool points for that. I'm impressed with how well the author plants us in that setting. Lovely prose, clear writing, and not overburdened with description.

My big criticism has to do with the characters. They're stupid. Not in a deliberate way, like Don Quixote, but in a way that makes you want to put the book down. For instance, there's a scene where the main character watches a fellow outcast at the school fall for a cruel trick. The trick is utterly transparent to anyone who's ever attended junior high school, yet Gemma (at age 15) is blind to it. Okay, maybe this is excusable because she's led a sheltered life apart from other children ... but later on, she falls for a similar trick herself. This girl has an inability to learn from other people's mistakes. She's as gullible as a 5-year-old. And she's the protagonist.

Why do some authors feel the need to dumb down their characters? I can't stand that. It's one of my peeves. It's not my biggest peeve, so I finished the book, and gave it a decent rating. Pick it up if you love Harry Potter, The Golden Compass, and those types of books.