Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

A Great and Terrible Beauty
By Libba Bray
December 9, 2003
Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 403 pages

It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?

— Amazon.com description

This has actually never happened to me before: I don't know what to think of this book. See: I couldn't even pick a star rating.

I know! Me! The loud-mouthed, opinionated one. No clue.

This book is part of a series, and I think that has a lot to do with it. Gemma's story is just starting. I've barely got a taste of Kartik and feel there's much, much more of him—and Circe, and the realms, and Miss Moore—to come. To me, writing a review now feels a bit like judging a story when I've only read a few chapters.

I can say this: I am definitely looking forward to finding out what happens next. I wasn't swept away, and I'm not raving, but I have a lot of respect for what Bray created in A Great and Terrible Beauty. Her world was wonderfully crafted, and the feminist in me loves the way she took on women's status in Victorian society.

But there were parts, especially when the girls were in the realms, that I found myself reading and re-reading, unsure of what was happening. IT WAS SO TRIPPY. Plus, I was out of it with food poisoning while reading much of this. Double the trippy. Am I going to have acid flashbacks?

Another trouble spot was brought up by Jenn from Girls Just Reading. Gemma and her friends just seemed a little too modern for the book's historical setting. Which was great, because they were more relatable to me, but when such care was put into creating this perfect historical setting, some of the more modern dialogue threw me off. Though...I suppose I don't know how girls talked back then. Perhaps teenage girls will be teenage girls, no matter the century.

Readers seems to split people into two camps: Love or hate it. And I'm firmly split down the middle till I find out what happens next. Have you read it? What do you think? Would love to hear some other opinions!

If you like this book, you might also like: A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb.

Anna Reads young adult book blog


  1. Interesting review! Books that make you think and keep you on edge when trying to decide what you think of them are kind of awesome I think. I mean, sometimes they frustrate me too much and make me angry, but it's also kind of neat. Good luck with the next book!

  2. I'm on the love it side for this series. It's definitely one of my favorites. Looking forward to seeing what you think of the rest of the books.

  3. I have had this book on my shelf for FOREVER. I need to eventually read it. I've heard the same issues from people who have read it! I get a little cranky when the dialogue doesn't match the historical setting!

  4. I've read a couple lately where I finished them and couldn't form a single sentence as to how I felt about the book in general. I thought you did a fantastic job of expressing your thoughts, even though you are firmly in the middle on this one:)

  5. Anna, Trippy on top of Trippy! Yikes! Hope you are feeling better.

    Hmmm.. perhaps those teen girls were the inventors of our modern terms? LOL!

    I've long been interested in reading this one just because I love the cover and title, but based on your review, I think I can wait. I'm not a fan of contemporary verse in historical fiction. It distills the story for me. Thank you for your honest thoughts on this one.

  6. Anna, I love this review! Sometimes books leave me completely dumbfounded, too, and I actually have to step back and review them weeks later in order to be mildly objective. I appreciate your honesty though! :)

  7. This book has popped up in my suggestions time & time again - but for whatever reason I've always disregarded it. Maybe I am sensing what you've experienced with it? I hate closing a book & feeling unsatisfied with it. Series or not, I need something from the book!

  8. Great review. My friends love this book but this book doesn't appeal for some reason. I wouldn't mind trying her other book 'Going Bovine'.

  9. I really enjoyed this series! I can't wait to see how you feel about the other two :)

  10. Great post, I agree with a lot of what you are saying, I'm glad I didn't have to review this series because I read it way before I started my blog. I'm anxious to see what you think of the other books.

  11. Interesting review. I absolutely loved this book. The series is one of my favorites, and I am always taking them out and rereading them. I find them simply magical. I'll be interested to see what you think after reading Rebel Angels. I have to say - Rebel Angels is probably my favorite book of the 3.


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