As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

February 8, 2016


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. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Julie, Children's lit enthusiast and pop culture geek

THE SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD OF PRICKWILLOW PLACE is part murder mystery, part friendship tale, and part love letter to Victorian-era novels--but it is all entertaining!  At St. Etheldreda's School for Girls in 1890, murder most foul threatens to change the lives of the young women who attend the institution.  When their headmistress and her brother are poisoned, the girls--Dear Roberta, Dull Martha, Disgraceful Mary Jane, Pocked Louise, Stout Alice, Smooth Kitty, and Dour Elinor--must hide the crime or risk being separated forever.  As they take great pains to cover up the crime, they also must find their guardian's murderer, who is still at large and ready to strike again.

Julie Berry's novel is expertly written and wickedly funny.  The style of writing is old-fashioned, yet accessible, and drenched with dark humor--think Lemony Snicket or Lois Lowry's THE WILLOUGHBYS.  In the very first chapter, for instance, Headmistress Constance Plackett and her brother Alduous Godding drop dead at the dinner table--and the schoolgirls are instantly terrified that their poor cooking skills did the adults in.  When the doorbell rings, revealing the dinner guests for Alduous's birthday party, the girls panic--and then get creative.  The scenes that follow are the perfect mixture of humor and whodunnit as the girls try to discover the real reason behind the deaths.

Aside from the caper itself, my favorite part of THE SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD was certainly its cast of characters.  Although it boasts seven protagonists, each girl gets a chance to shine and feels fully fleshed out, despite the seemingly one-dimensional monikers.  For instance, while Stout Alice begins as the pudgy, plain girl of the group, she becomes a standout character. She flourishes as an actress, attracts a suitor, and plays an important role in preventing outsiders from learning about the murders.  Other memorable characters include Dour Elinor and Disgraceful Mary Jane, who are obsessed with death and boys, respectively, and provide many of the comic one-liners that readers will enjoy.

This novel is an excellent choice for anyone who is comfortable laughing at the darkly Dickensian elements of life.

Market: Middle grade fiction
Violence:  None aside from references to the central murders.  However, the girls' comic-but-clumsy attempts to keep the murders hidden might frighten or disturb younger readers. 
Language: None.
Sensuality: Oblique references to adult relationships, especially by Disgraceful Mary Jane
Adult Themes: Death, murder/crime

Second review by Rosalyn E.

Julie Berry's newest novel, The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, is nothing like her previous, All the Truth that's In Me (excepting a historical setting)--which may be a good thing. As moving as that book was, I found this one utterly delightful. It mixes so many of the things I love: a good mystery, Victorian manners, clever girl heroines, and humor. 

The seven students at Prickwillow Place, Mrs. Plackett's boarding school for young ladies, are horrified one night at Sunday dinner when their mistress and her ne'er-do-well brother suddenly drop dead at the table of apparent poison. Instead of doing the expected thing--notify the police--the girls decide (at the suggestion of Smooth Kitty) to bury the bodies in the garden and keep up the pretense of their existence so that they don't have to return to their various unhappy home situations. From this point, of course, a wild romp ensues, beginning almost at once when the  neighborhood descends for the surprise birthday party Mrs. Plackett planned for her brother. As the girls try to maintain the façade that their mistress still exists, keep house, negotiate suitors (the older girls appear to be 16-17ish), and solve a mystery, the plot continues to escalate. The premise is wildly implausible, but Berry executes it with such panache that I didn't mind at all.

While some reviewers have complained about the adjectives preceding the girls' names, I found them funny (and a fairly Victorian touch). Smooth Kitty is the clear leader, but I also loved Stout Alice, who was stout of both form and heart, Pocked Louise (a clever young scientist)--even Dour Elinor, with her fascination for all things macabre, had her charm.

The dialogue was witty, the characters interesting (if not always likeable), the situations funny, the bits of romance sweet, and the writing clever. Overall, a terrific middle grade novel. I'm not honestly sure how this appeals to the target 10-14 year old demographic, but I loved it.

Market: Middle-grade/YA (marketed as MG, but several of the characters are YA
Language: mild
Sensuality: mild
Violence: moderate--it does deal with murder, after all
Mature Themes: murder, death by poison

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