The Girl with the Glass Bird by Esme Kerr
Publisher: Chicken House (Scholastic Inc.)
Even at Knight’s Haddon, the exclusive boarding school for girls, Anastasia Stolonov is special: a real-life Russian princess, fragile and melodramatic. She’s forever claiming that someone is stealing her things – her diary, her pocket money, the precious crystal bird her father gave her. But since the items always turn up again, none of the other girls believes her.
Except Edie Wilson. Because Edie, in her own way, is special too: a smart, brave orphan who has been sent to Knight’s Haddon as a spy! Boarding school is like nothing she’s ever known, so she’s surprised by how quickly she comes to feel at home. But Edie can’t forget why she’s really there: to keep a watchful eye on the troubled Russian princess. Are the rumours true? Is Anastasia honestly going mad? Or is there an ominous plot at work in the cold stone classrooms and dusty old dormitories of Knight’s Haddon: a plot that might very well be masterminded by the stern headmistress?
What the two unlikely best friends discover puts both their lives in peril.
Why you will read this book:
- It’s a boarding school story with a twist. (The twist must be emphasized.)
- The atmosphere and narrative have that upper class school story feel of being an entirely different world, one run by its own rules.
- The narrative also unsettles this cozy, moneyed feel: this is a modern story (cellphones!) with a narrator who doesn’t belong in that world. I’d say that there is an edge in the narrative approach that is uncomfortable with the hierarchies of class and wealth and with that whole world.
- So it’s a boarding school story with all the associated norms, and at the same time a harder-edged, more questioning story.
- It is also a story about power. Adults with power? Not a good thing. Narrative sympathy is firmly entrenched with the difficulties of Edie’s situation: she is a child without parents who has recently lost her home when her grandmother was no longer able to conceal her increasing blindness. Edis has lost her beloved Babka, their pet, her neighbours, her friends at school. Her aunt is too self-absorbed to limit the horrible behaviour of her eldest son, Edie’s eldest cousin, and the younger two boys follow their elder’s lead.
- Consequently, the story takes seriously child violence and adult autocracy.
- Um, but that makes it sound like this is a bleak story? It’s not.
- Edie is an intelligent, resourceful scrapper. She isn’t afraid to break the rules; she never hesitates to think for herself.
- She and Anastasia are fantastic friends, and their relationships with the other girls at the school are a lot of fun to read.
- Edie’s relationships with the adults at school are also a lot of fun. The adults (all women) are not necessarily trustworthy, and that made a large part of the pleasure in reading: the reader really doesn’t get to see things as they are until the end, and even then there are still worlds to uncover (in future books – the second is out but I haven’t got my hands on it yet).
- To recap: this is an emotionally true boarding school, detective-spy story about female friendship, class, theatre, and inscrutable adults, as experienced by a brave, independent girl who dreams.