It must be all this talk about the End of Summer, but I’ve been in a very particular reading mood. More and more, I find myself reaching for school stories, trying to recreate the experience of reading Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers, but without boring myself to tears. And so, this week’s list is all about private schools and the private communities that girls build there.
Laurinda by Alice Pung:
Laurinda is the private school story that I’ve been waiting for ever since I’d read Malory Towers. This epistolary novel unfolds as a series of letters from Lucy Lam to her public school friend Linh, over the course of Lucy’s first year at Laurinda. As the first recipient of the “Equal Access” scholarship to Laurinda, Lucy has a lot of expectations piled onto her, but what Lucy feels most is a growing fracture between the person she used to be at her old school—outspoken and fearless—and the person she is becoming at her new school. Between pranks and exams, friends and bullies, Pung writes incisively about the trials of being a token non-white child from a low-income immigrant family in an elite school. I didn’t think it was possible to read a school story that so humorously and honestly discusses systemic oppression and how it functions in schools, but Laurinda accomplishes just that and more. Plus, there’s a neat little twist to the story to look forward to. I cannot recommend this one enough.
Verdict: Buy. You could wait until the 6th of September to see which cover you prefer: Laurinda or the newer edition from Knopf, Lucy and Linh.
Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger:
I suppose Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality doesn’t exactly fit the definition of private schools as we understand them now, but Geraldine’s is an exclusive schooling. In this strange and delightful steampunk rendition of the world, however, Geraldine’s is one of the stranger things the protagonist has experienced—and Sophronia had already seen a werewolf in a top hat on the way to school. The setting provides Sophronia a space to truly come into her own. Sure, there are pesky rules and difficult classes and sure, there are girls Sophronia can’t trust, but Mademoiselle Geraldine’s also provides Sophronia’s adventurous soul with an adventure. The plot, predictably, is slow to build as this is the first book in the series, but in other ways it isn’t very predictable at all. The artful blend of fantasy and historical fiction, the droll humour, and the fun mystery are all reasons to pick this book (or audiobook—Moira Quirk is an excellent narrator) up, but the thing I love most about this book is how real and solid the friendships forged between the girls feel.
Verdict: Borrow. Unless you have space on your shelf for a series or two—because I really doubt finishing this series will stop you reading about Carriger’s steampunk world—in which case, buy.
Set in an exclusive ballet school in New York, Tiny Pretty Things and its sequel Shiny Broken Pieces, follows three girls on their journeys to be the very best ballerinas to ever grace a stage. Gigi, a newcomer to the school, dances because that is what she loves to do. Bette, one of the school’s elite, dances to make a name for herself. And June is fuelled by her own perfectionist tendencies and those of her mother’s. Of course, the spotlight can shine on only one. It’s a fast-paced thriller of a duology, with each page revealing just enough to both satisfy and addict. This series also takes into consideration issues that aren’t usually discussed in stories about competitive schools, things like eating disorders, depression, and substance abuse. But the true strength of the series lies in the perfectly paced plot and the excellent character development. The books will have you reeling long after you put them down.
Verdict: Buy. I promise you’ll notice new things upon re-reading this duology, and yes, you’ll definitely want to re-read it.