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It was well done, although there were portions of the book that seemed a bit forced.
on 17 September 2010
I must make an important note here, digress and ask: has anyone else noticed that using the word "gingerly" is practically a prerequisite for young adult authors to consider themselves thus? Seriously, I could (and if I ever have the time, will) make a list of young adult lit that employ that infamous word! Nowhere else have I seen that adjective/adverb so frequently used. It's certainly never used in common speech. I'm going to test it out-just to see whether or not people look at me as though I have three heads if I actually say something like: "I gingerly took the antique mirror from its place, high upon the wall." Seriously, who says it? Do publishers force young adult authors to throw the word in for good measure? Is it an ingredient, like paprika, that the potato salad of young adult lit just wouldn't be the same without? For Libba Bray's sake, I must note that she used it only once, if I'm not mistaken...and it wasn't poorly used, by any means...It just makes me smile every time I come across it.
Back to the book-It was well done, although there were portions of the book that seemed a bit forced.
Great & Terrible Beauty is set (during the first 30 pages in India) in turn-of-the-century England, at an all girls preparatory school. Gemma, the main character, has experienced a mysterious tragedy, and enters the school with a sense of foreboding that she cannot shake, or seem to share with anyone. After a very short time, the reader is introduced to what will become an unlikely group of friends, consisting of the archetypal cruel, power-hungry beauty (Felicity), the fickle follower (Pippa), the spirited upstart (Gemma) and the dowdy outcast (Ann).
Certain aspects of the book annoyed me. One of the subplots consisted of Ann's injuring herself, by scratching at her wrists. While I'm certain women of all eras have harmed themselves in order to remind themselves that they "can still feel", I couldn't help but feel as though Bray was taking an idea from a more modern story (about the more modern phenomenon of cutting, for example) and trying to push it into this novel...The lasting effect resulted in the proverbial round peg, square hole dilemma. It didn't seem too necessary to force that type of character development on Ann, and again, seemed glaring only because it took me out of the time period that was intended for the story.
There are certain scenes that seemed to have been a bit too familiar. The most predictable scenes, however, were often followed by something pleasantly unexpected (I must be vague here, as I despise spoilers).
I have to give Bray credit for writing such a solid story with a main character who is clearly immature and flawed, yet still strong and likeable. I also appreciate the fact that Bray managed to tell an entertaining story, while trying to instill (in her primarily female audience) ideas of feminine power-a celebration of independence, strength and individuality.
As the reader continues on Gemma's journey, the existence of magical realms and an ancient, mystical Order takes over the bulk of the plot. The magic of the realms teeters on the edge of becoming a metaphor for drug use; at times I thought the narration of the story would break, and the reader would be told that the "magic" was really heroine, or something like it. My guess is that Bray was trying to find a venue for the exploration of Power, and what potential harm it can do to a person who thirsts for it without any thought of the consequences.
If you're looking for a slightly creepy, entertaining novel, you'll enjoy A Great & Terrible Beauty. I want to read the sequel, Rebel Angels, which I consider a good sign.