Friday, December 22, 2006

A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray

Libba Bray
ISBN: 0-385-73231-7
Young Adult
Book #06-162

After spending her first sixteen years in India, Gemma Doyle is finally granted her wish of living in England. Unfortunately, Gemma's mother has committed suicide (rather than be murdered) under very strange circumstances, and Gemma is haunted by her part in her mother's death, particularly since her family have agreed to claim that Gemma's mother died of cholera. Shipped off to Spence Academy to learn to be the perfect rich man's wife, Gemma finds herself at odds with the other girls in her school until she does a favor for Felicity, leader of the clique at Spence. Suddenly Gemma is one of the in-crowd, and she forces the group to accept Ann, a poor relation whose future as a governess is unavoidably assured. Along with Pippa, the acknowledged beauty of the school, the girls immerse themselves in Gemma's mother's diary. They are soon caught up in a mystery as malevolent as it is magical.

With the help of her friends, Gemma develops the supernatural powers that have marked her as a leader of The Order. Together, the girls try to learn the fate of two girls who died in a fire at Spence, and who seem to be the key to present events. Gemma herself must learn the identity of the handsome stranger who has followed her from India and who may hold the key to her mother's death.

A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY is a marvelous book, moody and evocative of teenaged angst at its most anguished. Gemma is far from a perfect heroine, and her friends are equally flawed, which should help readers identify with them as a refreshing change from heroines who are a little too good to be believed. Gemma's revenge against the catty girls who have tormented her will leave readers giggling in appreciation, and her regrets over her last words to her mother will evoke sympathy from anyone who ever missed a chance to say goodbye. Libba Bray ties up enough of the story to leave it completely satisfying, but the promise of the next book, REBEL ANGELS, will guarantee a hurried trip to the nearest bookstore for readers hungry to learn the secrets of The Order and the ultimate fate of Gemma and her friends.

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