The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place was last modified: November 2nd, 2015 by Jenny Sawyer
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Posted on by Jenny Sawyer
Title: The Hired Girl
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Title: Bellweather Rhapsody
Author: Kate Racculia
Author: Julie Berry
Genre: Fiction (MG/young YA, gothic humor)
Year published: 2014
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Length: 368 uproarious, mildly suspenseful pages
The young ladies of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls have a problem. Make that two problems: two dead bodies, one of which just happens to be their headmistress! Of course, as the intelligent ladies of St. Etheldreda’s quickly discover, perhaps the biggest problem isn’t the bodies, but the person who dispatched Mrs. Plackett and her unpleasant brother, Mr. Godding. A murderer?! In their midst?! Whatever are the seven young ladies to do?
Job one: Bury the bodies. Job two: Hunt down the murderer. Job three: Ensure that not one of the seven of them gets sent home to their horrid families. Can the daring young ladies keep up their ruse, outwit a killer, and prevent their beloved school from being most inconveniently shuttered? In this hilarious romp of plot twists and mistaken identities, one thing is for sure: These seven young ladies will either save their school…or die trying.
The seven young ladies at the heart of The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place are both this delightful novel’s biggest strength, and its greatest weakness. To aid the reader in keeping the young ladies straight, author Julie Berry gives each girl a designation—Dour Elinor, for example, or Disgraceful Mary Jane. As the book progresses, these monikers make it easier to keep the young ladies straight—but not that much easier. I do wonder if some younger readers might find that the slightly chaotic cast makes for a frustrating read. It definitely took a good half-dozen chapters to win me over.
And yet, the seven smart, sassy, and intrepid Victorian girls—a true literary sisterhood if there ever was one—are also what make this story. I often find books without a clear protagonist to be problematic. But Berry deftly handles the emotional arcs of each girl. And while some are certainly more well-developed than others by the end of the story, I was surprised by how I ended up connecting with several of the characters—and even feeling satisfied by their growth.
Mostly, as a writer, I appreciated the way Berry handled not just her giant cast, but also plot twists, red herrings, and an attentively-drawn setting with seeming ease. If you can push past the somewhat dense intro to this story, you’ll be rewarded with a book that’s a romp—and a pleasure.