Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Great and Terrible Beauty

A Great and Terrible Beauty
Author: Libba Bray
Random House, 2003
403 pages

Jane Austen meets the Supernatural in this Victorian-era “Young Adult” nail-biter. Sixteen-year-old Gemma, the daughter of British expats living in India, is longing to visit her home country. For some reason, her mother doesn’t want her to go. This only brings out Gemma’s rebellious nature. Suddenly, her mother is killed under mysterious circumstances just after Gemma experiences the first of many frightening “visions.”

Gemma finds herself getting her wish: she’s placed in the Spence Academy, an English boarding school. There, she goes through trials and tribulations of being the new girl: dealing with cliques, bullies, and adult authority figures while continuing to experience her “visions.” The goal of Spence is not so much to educate girls but to transform them into society wives and mothers. Gemma connects with three other girls: beautiful Pippa, who’s about to be married off to a man older than her father; contrite Felicity, whose thirst for power seeks to fill a gap left by absent parents; and Ann, the poor orphan who is at Spence on scholarship and knows that in the future she’ll be no more than a servant to the girls who are now her peers. Together the girls enter into a pact that has long-lasting (for some, eternal) consequences, and along the way they learn what really happened to Gemma’s mother.

A Great and Terrible Beauty provides strong female characters while also commenting on the social order of the Victorian era, a time when keeping up appearances was more important than truth and substance. I don’t think my niece is quite old enough to appreciate this book (it’s probably better for readers 16 and older), but I did, and I already bought the next book in the series – Rebel Angels

Rating: 4.25 stars.