September 29, 2014 by Heidi
Title: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place [Goodreads]
Author: Julie Berry [Twitter|Website|Facebook]
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Young Adult, Middle Grade, Historical, Mystery
Published: September 23rd, 2014 by Roaring Brook Press
Format: Hardcover; 368 pgs.
Source: Review copy from publisher.
There’s a murderer on the loose—but that doesn’t stop the girls of St. Etheldreda’s from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce.
The students of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong.
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a smart, hilarious Victorian romp, full of outrageous plot twists, mistaken identities, and mysterious happenings.
If a book says the right combination of any two things to me–I’m going to read it. It could be “fairy tale” + “humor”, it could be “masquerade” + “romance”, or, as was the case with The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, it could be “boarding school” + “Victorian”. This is a combination that has served me well in the past. I quite enjoyed Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy, I thought The Mischief of the Mistletoe was such a romp I went out and read the rest of Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series asap (which, to be fair, is Regency rather than Victorian, but I’m an equal opportunity Anglophile), and Lev A.C. Rosen’s All Men of Genius instantly became one of my all-time favorites by mashing together so many things I love it was practically bursting at the seems. Throw in an undeniably catchy title, that absolutely stunning cover and an all-star female cast, and wild horses weren’t going to keep me from devouring every last bit of The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place.
In these pages, Julie Berry has created a farcical romp of the type I would truly love to see on stage. Indeed, The Scandalous Sisterhood would make a wonderful play, one I’m sure Oscar Wilde himself would enjoy. Opening the scene with murder most foul, we find the students of Saint Etheldreda’s School for Young Ladies faced with a choice: call the police and be packed off home to be sent to other finishing schools far away from one another, or tidy away the bodies and go on living in the freedom of their sisterhood. Put like that, it’s hardly any choice at all.
Pocked Louise, Stout Alice, Dour Elinor, Disgraceful Mary Jane, Dull Martha, and Dear Roberta, are led quite by Smooth Kitty, into covering up a crime that was not their own…or was it? I love that The Scandalous Sisterhood was made up of plucky young women of all different sorts. Dour Elinor, obsessed with darkness and death, Pocked Louise who has a mind for science, Stout Alice with her flair for the stage, Dull Martha seeking to find confidence in herself, Disgraceful Mary Jane with her head-turning flirtations, and Smooth Kitty with her head for numbers and plans. The only girl who I’m afraid fell a bit flat for me was Dear Roberta, simply by her nature of being so dear, and thus so congenial and generally there. When faced with a parade of nosy neighbors, concerned doctors, interested suitors, and the reality of there being a murderer still on the loose, the girls band together rather than devolving the way too many bands of girls can do in reality and literature alike. Sure, they may cast an askance glance or two around the school looking for culprits, but none of them think this is a true possibility.
Some readers may struggle with the traditional head-jumpy Victorian writing methods employed here by Julie Berry, but being used to such a thing in these books they don’t phase me. I’ll admit the plot could be slow in parts–lots of discussing and not as much doing, as I read the first half of the book over a long period of time, then sat down and devoured the rest in one cozy fall afternoon involving a fuzzy blanket and tea. Once wrapped up in the story, however, it is impossible to deny the humor and wit therein. Julie Berry’s mystery was laid out in a way that left me surprised time and time again–my favorite aspects being those that left me smiling and the girls gobsmacked. I was a particular fan of one scene that was reminiscent of one of my favorite old movies–Summer Magic–a true Yellow Peril moment if there ever was one.
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is certainly a book celebrating sisterhood in the best of ways–the type of sisterhood we choose for ourselves. The sisterhood isn’t scandalous in the traditional sense (accept for maybe Mary Jane–that girl probably won’t quit until she’s scandalized herself into a marriage), it’s scandalous because it is full of young women who are independent minded and desire to think and act for themselves in ways beyond the confines of the society they live it.
“Some women are born for more independence than society offers them. Perhaps all are, but some have not yet learned to recognize it.”
It’s a story of girlfriends putting each other before boys or family, or even the law, and though perhaps misguided I cannot say I don’t approve.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: I’ve been meaning to try a Julie Berry book for years, though it was always meant to be one of her fantasy novels like Secondhand Charm. Of course I’m now sold and will make a point of it, even though I know they’re quite different.
Recommended for: This book works for either older middle grade or young adult readers. A wonderful book for independent minded young (or not so young) women, anyone else who enjoys Victorian boarding schools, or a good mystery.
Get a second opinion:
Random Musings of a Bibliophile – “I liked this one quite a lot. It is so much fun.”
So Obsessed With – “I couldn’t help grinning from ear to ear while I was reading The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place!”