Great and Terrible Beauty

Bray, Libba. A Great and Terrible Beauty. Ember, 2003.

Reason read: May is birds and bees month. A Great and Terrible Beauty is a book written for teenagers. I think you can figure it out from there.

Even though this is a book best for teens I found myself enthralled with the story of Gemma. After her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, Gemma is sent to an finishing school in London. Everyone is saying her mother died of cholera because the truth is far more scandalous for the Victorian era. Despite taking place in Victorian England, Gemma’s boarding school could be in western Maine in the 21st century. The cattiness of school girls is as timeless as it is universal. In short, there will always be a crew, a posse, a clique, or gang. Some group of individuals designed to alienate and torture others. The names of these groups will change, but for the outsider the unfathomable desire to belong to one of them will never change. The act of self-mutilation in an effort to feel “something” is timeless, as well. Cutting in an effort to feel something is also represented in the story. The title of the book comes from the great and terrible beauty of power. There is an unspoken responsibility when bestowed with power. Gemma has the power to visit another realm; one filled with beautiful visions and terrible evils.

Two lines I liked, “Your mind is not a cage” (p 128) and “What kind of girl am I to enjoy a kiss I’ve seized so boldly, without waiting to have it asked for and taken from me, the way I should?” (p 210).

Author fact: according to the author bio, Libba is a cat person. Cool.

Book trivia: A Great and Terrible Beauty is the first of three books in the Gemma Doyle Trilogy. I am not reading Rebel Angels or The Sweet Far Thing. Too bad because I liked A Great and Terrible Beauty.

Playlist: “God Save the Queen”.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about A Great and Terrible Beauty other than to indicate it is best for teenage girls. I would disagree. Boys need to know about prejudices against women. Gemma’s brother is a prime example of what was (and still is) wrong with our society. Girls, females, women are not supposed to be pretty objects for men to own no matter the century. We can’t erase how long it took women to have a vote or to play professional sports, but we can educate our boys, males, men to make better choices when it comes to the representation and treatment of women. [Stepping down from soap box now…]

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 23).