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Review of The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

berry_scandalous sisterhood of prickwillow placeThe Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place
by Julie Berry
Middle School    Roaring Brook    354 pp.
9/14    978-1-59634-956-6    $15.99    g

This airy confection could not be more different from Berry’s most recent (and pitch-black) novel All the Truth That’s in Me (rev. 11/13). Part murder mystery, part girls’-school story, part dark drawing-room comedy (think Edwin Drood, Arsenic and Old Lace, or the 1980s movie Clue), the novel opens in 1890 England at Saint Etheldreda’s School for Young Ladies. The seven students — our heroines — are known throughout the book as Dear Roberta, Disgraceful Mary Jane, Dull Martha, Stout Alice, Smooth Kitty, Pocked Louise, and Dour Elinor. Their headmistress is Mrs. Plackett, but she’s dispatched in the second paragraph (by poison), followed soon afterward by her ne’er-do-well brother, Aldous. The young ladies spend the rest of the book trying to figure out whodunit while also concealing the deaths (burying the bodies in the vegetable garden; having Stout Alice impersonate Mrs. Plackett; bilking their parents for tuition) in order to remain together at the school. Berry takes her madcap seriously, never breaking character when it comes to the old-timey setting or details (a Strawberry Social is the unlikely occasion of a late-in-the-story death). The young ladies, too, are products of their time: each one’s burgeoning independence and coming-into-her-own — largely gained through the murder investigation and/or cover-up, some also through snagging a beau — is satisfying without being too anachronistic. An immensely entertaining, smart, and frothy diversion.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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