A School for Unusual Girls [Book Review & Giveaway!]
Title: A School for Unusual Girls (Stranje House #1)
Author: Kathleen Baldwin
Publisher: Tor Teen
Published Date: 19th May 2015
Rating: 4 stars
Synopsis: Welcome to Stranje House.
It’s 1814. Napoleon is exiled on Elba. Europe is in shambles. Britain is at war on four fronts. And Stranje House, a School for Unusual Girls, has become one of Regency England’s dark little secrets. The daughters of the beau monde who don’t fit high society’s constrictive mold are banished to Stranje House to be reformed into marriageable young ladies. Or so their parents think. In truth, Headmistress Emma Stranje, the original unusual girl, has plans for the young ladies—plans that entangle them in the dangerous world of spies, diplomacy, and war.
After accidentally setting her father’s stables on fire while performing a scientific experiment, Miss Georgiana Fitzwilliam is sent to Stranje House. But Georgie has no intention of being turned into a simpering, pudding-headed, marriageable miss. She plans to escape as soon as possible—until she meets Lord Sebastian Wyatt. Thrust together in a desperate mission to invent a new invisible ink for the English war effort, Georgie and Sebastian must find a way to work together without losing their heads—or their hearts…
Review: A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin was a YA historical fiction novel I was curious to read as soon as I heard about it. The idea of a book about a group of girls in a school learning everything they would ever need to be a spy for the good of England? Now that had me intrigued from the start! I was quite happy to find everything I expected to be satisfied in reading the novel.
What I was very happy to find out about this novel was that it was historically accurate, as far as my own study of history could tell. If there was any inconsistency with a historical situation, I could tell it was clearly for the sake of the story (and the author mentions it in the author’s note at the end as well, to avoid any misleading situations.) It being set so far into history was a concern of mine because I usually read only as far back as the 1900s. But it worked well for this story and the setting and atmosphere was described in enough detail for it to contribute to the weaving of the plotline and story.
I really loved how feminist this novel was. I liked how it was about girls who were all outcasts from society for one reason or another and therefore were being taught to be stronger while also being able to blend in. These are the kind of girls who are interested in science, in deduction, in not shunning their intelligence like society tells them to for them to be domesticated. Yet at the same time, they are also learning those domesticated skills too. I think it sent a clear message that women can be more – they can be domesticated and enjoy cooking, but then enjoy the arts of science too. One thing about the feminism movement is that sometimes it comes across as women as needing to only pursue work, equality and because of this, women might have to neglect the domesticated life. But I know and those who really know feminism knows it’s about women being free to be either/or, or whatever they want. There shouldn’t be any limits because there aren’t any for men either. And those are themes that I really liked seeing stand out in this novel on multiple occasions.
All the characters in the book worked for me. I didn’t feel like any were underdeveloped, but there wasn’t too much of a deep connection for some of them – I get the impression that will come through more so in book two. But for what we did get to meet of the girls: Tess, Maya, Sera, Jane and Georgie, I did really like them. They were all very individual and original. They each had their own skills, and their own backstories of problems that they had with fitting in and how it affected them. I really appreciated getting to know those tales. On top of that, I also approved of how we had one of the girls coming from the Indian culture. It would’ve been rare to have an international mix when it came to historical fiction, but the author still manages to include a bit of diversity while staying true to the historical context. You’ve got to applaud her for that.
The writing style was perfect for the novel. Although it was simple and straightforward enough to read (I mean, this is YA after all), it still had an air of sophistication to it which complimented the historical period as the speech would have done. I could admire the combination of keeping it easy enough to read and yet suitable for the mood and atmosphere of the novel. Oh, and there was plenty of sarcasm and wit in this novel. Georgie and Lord Wyatt had some serious banter going on.
However, I did feel like the theme of love became a bit more prominent than I expected in the novel. I didn’t mind too much though, because it tied in with the storyline quite well. Of course, the added relationships between people tightened the tension and the stakes rose when it came to the drama in the story. But I wasn’t quite expecting love to have such an importance in the novel.
The novel needs a little patience too. I found the beginning to be a bit slow, but that was more so because the book needed a good set up for the rest of the story to be effective and make sense. If you don’t mind immersing yourself in the main characters for the beginning part of the book, then you’ll be able to enjoy it regardless.
The second half of the novel picks right up and I was surprised by how high the suspense got. A lot of turns and twists I wasn’t expecting suddenly happened and I was on a whirlwind of trying to turn the pages fast enough to keep up. I really loved the ending and I hope it is going to be a similar situation in book two! The girls really had to unite in order to save the day (if they manage it 😉 )
Relevance to today: I am only now realising I left this out of my previous review (still getting used to it!) But I think it’s pretty clear in this novel – the feminist feels are alive and kicking, and this book makes it quite clear on what it was like to be female in history, and how that needs to be changed in the present day as well.
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New Video! A discussion about how historically accurate historical fiction should be…
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