The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place
by Julie Berry
Review by Gayle Surrette
Roaring Brook Press Kindle Edition ISBN/ITEM#: B00IQOFT9Y
Date: 23 September 2014
Saint Etheldreda's School for Young Ladies on Prickwillow Road had seven young ladies enrolled: Smooth Kitty, Disgraceful Mary Jane, Dour Elinor, Dear Roberta, Dull Martha, Pocked Louise, and Stout Alice. The school's owner and headmistress Constance Plackett was actually the only teacher at the school. This was a small school where parents sent their daughters to mainly keep them out of sight, out of trouble, and possibly to gain a few skills that might be useful to them when a husband could be found.
The girls weren't necessarily friends with each other, they were more bonded by adversity -- after all, none of them really wanted to be at the school. There were lessons and some need for the girls to help out a bit with chores, as the school, which was really Mrs. Plackett's home, only had one person in to do cooking and cleaning, Amanda Barnes. and it was a rather large home.
Things probably would have gone on much as they had before except, at this particular Sunday dinner, Mrs. Plackett died. Her brother, who always joined them for Sunday dinner, stood to assist his sister, and instead rapidly joined her in death. The girls, who had not been allowed to eat any of the meat served at the meal, suspected poison which must have been in the meat.
This sets up our sisterhood as the girls realize that without Mrs. Plackett they will all have to return to their homes which, no doubt, would result in them either being sent off again to another school for young ladies, or foisted off in marriage. Since during this time period young ladies didn't have many options open to them, they decided to hide the deaths and continue to operate the school themselves.
Each girl has her own abilities and interests, such as science, medicine, maths, and acting, which are not the ones that young ladies should be acquainted with, let alone proficient in. However, it is these abilities and skills that will be needed to keep the deaths hidden, the school open, and themselves free to rule themselves.
There is a murderer out there and they may all be in danger. They must figure out who killed Mrs. Plackett, and why, so they'll know what to do next.
The story is well set in its time period and the girls act according to the dictates of their society even though they are all misfits for one reason or another. As the story moves along the reader comes to understand the individual girls better and can sympathize with their wish to be left to their own devices. On the other hand, it's clear that they haven't thought through the ramifications of their hiding the bodies and trying to continue as if nothing has happened.
In short order, they find that the brother's landlord has reported him missing to the police and that Mrs. Plackett had a gentleman friend. Also, the schools books indicate that there's a lot of money missing. Keeping up the charade of no change at the school gets harder and harder to keep up as the days go by.
The resolution is one that may not surprise some readers but none the less is as satisfying as a reader could expect, even though it in some ways felt a bit contrived.
All in all, the characters are well defined and with depth enough to make a reader care about the young ladies at the school and their desire to take control of their lives. England was on the cusp of change and that shows in the nature of these young girls and their ability to think beyond what society demands of them. The mystery is a simple one but with enough side issues and potential perpetrators to keep up interest in what will happen next. The story should be interesting for readers of many ages from young teens through to adults.