Monday, September 7, 2015

Book Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty (Re-read)

A Great and Terrible Beauty
Libba Bray
Simon & Shcuster 2003
Source: Purchased
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Gemma Doyle finally has her wish to return to London, but it's at the cost of her mother's death in India.  Gemma is sent off to boarding school in hopes that her future can be salvaged and she'll be able to find a decent husband still.  The girls at Spence are cliquey, rude, and mean, but Gemma has more to worry about than that.  She's having visions of her mother's death and other strange happenings, and Katrik, a boy from India who was present at her mother's death has followed her to Spence.  When she finds the diary of a girl who used to go to Spence and died in a tragic fire, Gemma discovers that her visions are more than just that.  They're a gateway into a beautiful world.

I read this years ago when it was pretty new.  I remember loving it--but I was also in my early 20's and still quite a teenager at heart.  I've thought of this book now and then decided it was time to purchase it again.  I almost wish that I hadn't read it again, but not because of the story itself.  My adult self is just too...grown up to really appreciate it.

The relationships between the girls are full of power struggles.  Gemma pretends she is too cool to be pulled into the drama, but of course that's not true.  She attempts many times to impress the Queen Bee Felicity, finding herself embarrassed in one way or another.  When suddenly Felicity allows her in to her circle (to keep herself safe), Gemma starts playing the same games.  She lords it over Felicity's once right hand Pippa, and likes that she sees Pippa feeling down trodden.  She allows her roommate to be goaded into things she doesn't want to do on a regular basis, while acting like she's helping her by allowing her into their inner club.  The whole girl drama just bugged me.  I'm guessing because at this point in my life I'm so over drama and cliques and what not that I refuse to even deal with them.  But that's a whole other story.

As for the story itself, I still loved it.  It had been long enough since I read it that I had vague remembrances of what happened, but nothing was very clear.  The different books merged together quite a bit.  Gemma's discovery of the realms is magical and terrifying as she begins to yearn for more and more power and understand the true meaning of holding onto power that great.

I also recognized and appreciated the references to freedom and liberation that came up often.  The girls in the story are each struggling with the confines of their sex.  They're all smart enough to know that they could have more if they weren't being forced to conform to the rules of their society.  The power that they have discovered together is the only thing allowing them to feel freedom and they embrace it wholeheartedly, but possibly a bit too much.  I'm sure that I noticed this when I read it the first time around, but I don't remember it being as prominent--maybe because I pushed it aside, or maybe at 20-ish I was just too preoccupied with myself instead of bigger ideas.

I will read the next two books, but I won't be rushing to do so.  I remember the series fondly and I will be disappointed if I read through it and am highly disappointed.

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