Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Great and Terrible Beauty - Libba Bray

Title: A Great and Terrible Beauty
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Delacorte Press, 2005 (Paperback)
Length: 403 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Started: November 20, 2009
Finished: November 23, 2009

From the author's website:
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?

This book has been on so many must-read lists that I finally decided to pick it up. I wanted to like this book, I really did. It's a female empowerment fantasy scenario, and I get that. I love the author's writing style, she's wonderful at symbolism and metaphors and all that (this book would be perfect to analyze for a women's literature class). But the thing that killed this book for me was the characters. I kept wanting to smack some sense into them throughout the whole book. I understand they're products of their time (1895), and that most women back then did act like complete ninnies most of the time, but that still doesn't endear them to me at all. This is exactly why I never enjoyed reading anything by Jane Austen (still can't), and I know people might say, "You have a degree in literature and you hate Jane Austen?" Yes, yes I do. I appreciate the point of books like these: showing the limited options women had and how they were treated and how some rebelled and some just did what they were told. I think reading about those things is important, but I also find it hard to identify with characters in those scenarios. This book is wonderful in how it is a great story of female empowerment, I just think it's difficult for girls today to relate to arranged marriages, divisions of class (practically everyone is middle-class nowadays), and repressed sexuality (like seriously repressed). I think girls need these kinds of stories, but they need them with things more relevant to their lives: choosing a healthy and balanced relationship, the ability to choose family, work, both, or neither and not feel guilty for it; and not being afraid to show intelligence or initiative.

Again, I get what the author was trying to do (and she writes excellently), I just really did not care for the characters and their personalities; it made them less relatable.

If you like 19th century stories with female characters, give this a read. If you think 19th century heroines can go suck a lemon, this might not be your thing.

Thoughts on the cover:
The cover is done quite well. The image of Gemma in her corset and shift is an image appropriate for the themes of female power and the constraints of society on women.

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