Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
A Great and Terrible Beauty begins in India with Gemma bickering with her mother. While Gemma takes off on her own in the market place, being a petulant teenager, she has a vision of her mother’s death. After her mother’s demise she is sent packing to a Victorian boarding school in England where she meets up with a horribly cliquish set of girls. These popular girls thrive on harassing others, playing pranks and lording their position in society over their classmates. Even though Gemma and her roomate, Ann, can see the cruelty of this clique they want to be included. Gemma gains admittance for herself and Ann by presenting a magical diary in exchange for their acceptance into the clique. The diary takes the girls on a path to contact supernatural forces. Through the journal they are instructed on setting up the Order, obviously the powers they are playing with are greater than their own. While in the cave the girls are roaring drunk, one of the girls kisses Gemma, and they talk about lesbians as they are beginning the Order.
Adult Point of View
I didn’t finish the book from this point because of the strange sensual nature of the scene in the cave. I skipped to the discussion questions to get further insight into the novel to see if it was something I was interested in finishing.
A Great and Terrible Beauty had a gripping opening chapter and the potential to be a chilling supernatural story. I initially lost interest when Gemma came to the English school filled with petty characters and cliques. I did not find the relationship Gemma had with the popular girls to be compelling, it seemed that Gemma should have more sense than to want to be included so desperately by girls that she despises on the surface. The sensuality of the cave and the idea of a “girl power” Order struck me as being odd. As I read the suggested discussion questions the themes of sensuality and a lesbian overtone was pervasive.
I do not recommend this book to young teen readers. Because of the social and emotional problems that occur when children begin having sex at an early age, it is inappropriate to include such lasciviousness in books geared to the young teen demographic. Nor is it appropriate to include a lesbian agenda in a young teen’s novel that may serve to titillate or exert undue influence on impressionable readers. Since having read the novel, I have been told that there are other scenes with a murder and other sexual scenes that are also objectionable.
(The teen point of view is not present in this review because she was not allowed to read this novel.)