Initial reaction: I enjoyed “Boarding School Girls” more than I realized because so much of it leans on parodying peer titles in its genre such as Gossip Girl. But there is a story here and reading between the narratives of the two girls kept me hooked despite a few bumps.
I feel so weird writing a reaction to this book, but nonetheless I’m going to try.
Helen Eve’s “Boarding School Girls” was ridiculous in parts and I say that with an appreciation for it (in some manners). One thing to keep in mind if you’re diving into this read – the girls are so self-absorbed, the schemes so thinly veiled, it’s humored on levels of intentionally being that and not. I don’t think it comes as close to being parody gold as Libba Bray’s “Beauty Queens”, but it has moments, and you can tell it somewhat takes odes to peer titles in its genre like Gossip Girl, Kate Brian’s “Private” series, among others.
In other parts, it’s serious, especially with respect to how it ends, so on the whole, it’s a disjointed read for emotions and development. But overall, I liked it more than I thought I would (though the ending still leaves me with an “ehh” sentiment overall because of how it comes across and that I didn’t like that as much).
To note, I haven’t read Eve’s follow-up novel to this, “Stella”, but I have a galley of it and I fully plan on reading it. So I’m reacting to it entirely as a stand-alone novel, though it was written after “Stella” and is intended as a prequel. I imagine I might have more thoughts after reading “Stella” and seeing the context of these events.
The long and short of it: this story’s told between the perspectives of Romy and Siena. Romy is an exile from an elite boarding school, supposedly kicked out for pushing a girl (Libby) down a ladder. There’s more to that story than meets the eye, and no one was really interested in hearing what actually happened, so Romy got the boot in more ways than one. After some time abroad, Romy returns to the school, much to chagrin of her old queen bee posse, The Starlets. At the center of The Starlets is Siena, a ruthless, self-absorbed girl who wants nothing more than to plan everything around herself (including a potential marriage to her boyfriend Jack, never mind his future plans).
Romy comes across as the (somewhat) rational one, Siena comes across as the completely OTT leader that she is, though with some moments of humanizing, especially when it comes to her relationship with her sisters. It’s interesting to see the contrast in Romy and Siena’s voices and to learn what motivations they have for doing the things they do. But for me, I don’t think this book completely took itself seriously for a while, especially given the things the girls would say and the events they would plan. Romy and Siena end up having to work together as punishment, and it results in so much calamity that it’s hard to think of any of it being realistic (I laughed so hard at the scene where Siena’s like “I. Hate. YELLOW!” when one of the girls designs a dress for her ball and it’s the wrong color). You could either think of it as being incredibly petty or humored because of what these girls have meltdowns over or how they deal with situations. But it really isn’t that far from some titles in its genre, and I think Helen Eve knows this and chooses to humor it in spurts, while at the same time establishing a story that gives the girls motivations as to why they do the things they do.
It somewhat comes apart towards the ending as Stella’s character takes more of a forefront for Siena’s motivations, and particularly for what Siena chooses to do in the end. Siena kills herself. That I didn’t like, and I’m not sure of what context that has with the follow-up novel, but it does put a damper over some of the more humored moments of the work, though I understood it as something that steadily built up as a result of a power play within Siena’s family. I’m willing to see where Eve takes this in “Stella,” though I’m a little late to the party.
Overall score: 3/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher St. Martin’s Press.