Roaring Brook Press
MG Historical Mystery, 368 pages
There's a murderer on the loose—but that doesn't stop the girls of St. Etheldreda's from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce.
The students of St. Etheldreda's School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong.
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a smart, hilarious Victorian romp, full of outrageous plot twists, mistaken identities, and mysterious happenings.
Now, I hope no one takes this the wrong way, but -
I really enjoy a good murder mystery.
(Just keep the words in that order and don't remember the mystery, and I think we'll all be good.)
I grew up on Sherlock Holmes, a little bit of Alfred Hitchcock's mystery anthologies here and there, and Agatha Christie adaptations, particularly Poirot and the beloved Miss Marple - some better than others. Do not get me started on the particular TV series that features Miss Marple as a patient, innocent bystander, replete with yarn and needles and some kind young man or other that actually gets the job done.
In any case, I am particularly smitten if there is something afoot, plenty of red herrings, and a smidgen of humor to tie everything together.
So it might be a bit of a mystery in itself why The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place was allowed to languish on my shelf for a good few months pre- and post-publication.
I...honestly have no answers for you right now. I can definitely tell you that I regret said languishing and I might very well make up for it in the future with a re-read or two.
But let's talk about what makes me regret said languishing, and why you shouldn't make the same mistakes.
The Scandalous Sisterhood is comprised of several girls who were endearing to me from the onset and quite beloved at the conclusion: Dull Martha, Smooth Kitty, Poxed Louise, Disgraceful Mary Jane, Stout Alice (my personal, absolute favorite), Dear Rebecca and Dour Elinor.
The little monikers at the beginning of each name was a little confusing at the beginning, but once you're headlong into the story, it helps to know which girl will react which way - and it also rather adds to the humor of it all.
So. Our fair and often aptly nicknamed heroines are away at boarding school, under the eye of a rather disliked headmistress and her boor of a brother. And then, one night at dinner, the both of them drop dead. The meal was poisoned. There is a murderer among them.
Now, in normal society, the proper thing to do (one would hope) is to call the authorities and possibly the local media, if you really want a circus, and step back. But Smooth Kitty proposes something different. They conceal the evidence, pretend as though everything is absolutely fine, and find out the murderer for themselves.
And so the mishaps begin.
This is my first time reading anything of Julie Berry's, and I must say that she has a particular talent for engrossing, often wry prose and appropriately placed capers. My eyes didn't wander. There were no pointless drops in mood after a particularly tense scene and no unnecessary love interest (and rare as it is for me to say this, yes - the older girls' love interests were very, very necessary).
I'd give the entire mechanics of the novel a good A+.
This is definitely on the middle grade scale of things, but I think it has a pretty good crossover appeal if you like a quaintly written, good old-fashioned free-for-all. Also, a book where all the girls involved in a scheme are friends, genuinely care for each other and look out for each other's well-being! How very, very refreshing!
My only bone to pick, if anything, is the fact that I'm personally still blinking over the ending. One of the tapped criminals did not make sense in the grand scheme of things to me.
(It was for something besides the murder, which was pretty well thought out and made me a little nervous of eating in the house of anyone who might hypothetically want to see me laid out on the floor.)
In any case, I noted last night that I feel the morbid undertones would be of particular appeal for Tim Burton or Laika Studios to consider an adaptation.
I don't know how to make this happen, but considering that Laika has a particular eye right now for children's books (have you heard the good word about the Wildwood option?), I am crossing my fingers that eventually, the Scandalous Sisterhood might fall in the right hands to make that come together.
You never know.
Of note: There is, quite obviously, murder. There are some heart-wrenching developments and details and side effects of said murder, and the involvement of poison. This book does not feel like a threat to the faint-hearted to me, but your mileage may vary.
Disgraceful Mary Jane also has a way around young men, and not much sense at all at times when it comes to said young men. Again, this is a middle grade novel and said lack of sense hardly goes beyond the region of flirtation and batting eyelashes, but take it as you will.