Showing posts with label boarding school. Show all posts
Showing posts with label boarding school. Show all posts

8/16/2010

Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont

Gossip of the Starlings, by Nina de Gramont, is a boarding school story with a twist. Catherine arrives at Esther Percy School for Girls, having been forced from her old (coed) school for boy-related reasons. The school seems rigid, constraining, lonely, until Sky Butterfield chooses Catherine as her friend. Beautiful, eloquent, daring, and brilliant, Skye, the Senator’s daughter, is brimming with life and vim. She transforms Catherine’s life into a whirl of hazy, weed-brightened nights and days of rosy adventures merely rimmed by classes.

Skye is passionate and vibrant, but her desperate thirst for dare and danger becomes concerning for Catherine. Skye has a tragic soul and seems to believe that she is indestructible—a belief she tests more and more frantically, engaging in increasingly dangerous adventures. Skye defies convention, takes what she wants, lives hungrily yet can never be satisfied. She is a tightrope walker, an enchanted seductress, an angel. She is a presence in both of the worlds she inhabits—the world of Esther Percy and the world of my mind. It is tough to say where she is more at home.

Gossip of the Starlings was fantastic. The writing was pure poetry: smooth, eloquent, daintily descriptive without ever being too thick. The characters were painted gloriously, the plot and the allusions drawn were constantly keeping me interested. The following is just a snippet from the long, intricate work of art Gramont has created.

“Now, when I see teenage girls laughing. When I see them loosed on a summer evening – their limbs tanned and gossamer, their imagined freedom radiating like nuclear light – I can’t help but fast forward two decades or more. I know the curve of their bones has already made an imperceptible bow to gravity. I see the decay in slow motion, even or especially through those stunning and immortal years.”

Complemented by such gems of observations, small moments make up much of the novel. They are painted to such rich perfection that after months I recall them still. The image of a blood promise in a night-dark dorm room stands in my mind bright and vivid—scarlet blood, moonlit curls, tender smiles and flushed cheeks as the girls teeter on the edge of destruction; the first in many daring adventures that take them inches from death, the only way, they believe, to truly experience life.

I loved Skye’s seduction, the way even the reader was drawn to her. I could picture her lush beauty, her tender flawless skin, the dare and the dreams in her eyes. The way she could dance logical circles around any opponent, dangle her ripe sexuality at a whim, manipulating the world into her dark and dizzy playground.

After finishing Gossip of the Starlings, I began to search for other hazy books about poetry and death and life and living on the cusp of womanhood. The only other one I found was the Virgin Suicides (by Jeffrey Eugenides), which was excellent but lacking the strong plot of Gossip of the Starlings. Any suggestions?

Anyway, as if you couldn’t guess—Gossip of the Starlings earns a glowing five daggers.

Off embracing my fleeting youth but always, unalterably yours,

Briar


1/25/2010

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Lee Fiora is a modest girl from the Midwest, blessed by luck and hours of effort, who has won a place and a scholarship to the Ault school, a prestigious Northeastern boarding school. Vineyard Vines, Ralph Lauren and J. Crew labels are everywhere to be seen, while the school demands more academically than Lee has ever experienced. Awed and apprehensive, Lee begins her Ault career, unsure of her place in this affluent, preppy world. As the weeks and months continue, Lee becomes progressively more alienated, feeling friendless and very much an outsider. She is not privy to East Coast slang, the favorite brands; her hair is not long and sleek, her body not completely soft and slender. The novel follows Lee for her four years at Ault, during which time she becomes hardly more integrated. She spends the overwhelming majority of her high school years feeling self-conscious and rather miserable, because she feels that any thought, expression or action outside of the norm will alienate her further and cause others to think badly of her.

I liken this feeling of being scrutinized to the concept of the “panopticon,” in the book The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks. A panopticon is a circular jail, arranged around a central well so that the prisoners could be watched at all times. Because of the constant assumption that they were being watched, the prisoners behaved and little watching ever really had to occur. In Prep, and in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, the boarding school atmosphere makes for a sort of panopticon—an environment in which everyone feels as though they are always being watched, and behave accordingly. For Frankie, in Disreputable History, the panopticon serves to fascinate her and spark a rebellion within her. In Prep, the panopticon makes Lee miserable, for she feels as though her every move must be calculated to follow what the popular students are doing, and she spends more time desperately trying to fit in than she does nearly anything else. Life with a desperate and masochistic motivation such as this is not a happy one; Lee is constantly miserable and ends up allowing herself to be used sexually by a popular boy, for after wanting so long to be wanted, she grasps at the first possibility. Lee acts for almost the sole motivation of wanting not necessarily to be accepted –for being different is never desirable—but included.

Prep was written by Curtis Sittenfeld, sort of as a memoir. Sittenfeld attended a very prestigious boarding school as a teenager, and changed the name and a few key facts in the book, in order to somewhat protect its identity. Knowing this as I read was a little sad, for Curtis, alias Lee, has such an awful time in the text.

Prep is the bittersweet story of a girl who enters into a lavish world that seems ideal to her, but quickly learns that the pressure to be the unattainable elite is suffocating, and she finds herself barely gasping for breath over the four years of her life there. The really sad thing was that by the end of the novel, Lee does not seem to have really learned anything. She has not decided to be true to herself, or not care what others think of her. Perhaps this is more realistic, but it is still rather melancholy.

Prep is basically a depressing read. And though the insights on life at such an institution as Ault were interesting and well-explored, often the book lagged in Lee’s despair and alienation.

Though I cannot say that Prep was pleasurable to read—it is certainly not uplifting—this was probably on purpose, for the author’s intentions clearly were not to make the reader gleeful. What the book did do was make me think, and I am always glad for a literary opportunity to do so. It concerned me a bit as well, for I am in the midst of applying to schools like Ault for high school, and Prep made me fear that a cold, elitist world is the one I am about to enter into. All in all it was a pretty good, if unsettling, read.

I give Prep a three out of five evil daggers.

Preppily yours,


Briar

4/16/2009

The Poison Apples by Lily Archer

Mother dies, father marries an unforgivably evil stepmother, and young daughter is stuck with a melancholy tale, waiting for her prince to save her. Sound familiar? Sound like every fairy tale in the book? Well—Poison Apples by Lily Archer is indeed like a fairy tale, but with modern setting and a delicious twist.

Three girls—Alice Bingley-Beckerman, Reena Parachuri, and Molly Miller—come into wicked stepmothers, and, one by one, are banished to a private boarding school: Putnam Mount McKinsey. There, by a mix of misunderstandings and pure chance, the three girls meet, and share their stories. Surprised at the similar horrendous fate that has befell each of them, they decide to form the Poison Apples— a secret society known to only them, committed to getting revenge upon their evil stepmothers. With prince charmings, small towns, little sisters and even a penguin or two, Poison Apples is certainly a fully packed and entertaining read.

I definitely enjoyed reading this book—for the most part, the characters were likeable and their scenarios amusing.

I liked the beginning especially, when the author was setting up each girl’s scenario. I found it well developed and interesting, with some funny insights on yoga and parents and clothes. I liked the natural way each found her path to the boarding school, but once there the book lost a bit of its spark to me. As the girls’ stories began to weave together, I found myself confused at times, but for the most part it was pretty good. I felt that the plots became a bit thinner, yes, but it was still enjoyable and funny. This was how most of the book continued—entertaining and witty, but dipping into too many sub-plots to fully commit to any of them.

The ending was the biggest fault, to me. Each girl embarked on a plan of revenge for their evil stepmothers, but the plans were weak and the execution weaker, and I felt that the ending was rather rushed.

On the whole, I identified with the three main girls very easily, I found the stepmothers deliciously evil, and I really, really liked the idea of a modern fairy tale, but at times the plot was weak and confusing.

I’d say three and a half evilistic daggers.

As a first novel, it showed a lot of potential, so I’d definitely watch for Lily Archer’s next book!



Happy that I am the evil one and not my mother,
Briar