A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray Date Started: December 25, 2008 Date Finished: December 28, 2008
Summary: Gemma Doyle is a girl living in India, when she gets a vision of her mother dying. She is shipped off to Spence Academy, where she encounters a group of girls and forms The Order, based on a diary of two former Spence Academy students. The girls, Felicity, Pippa, Ann, and Gemma travel to a unique world where their every dream comes true. However, everything is not what it seems and in the end, Gemma realizes that she has a terrible but beautiful secret that must never be told.
Likes: I liked just about everything in this book. I don't like reading in the present tense, but it actually took me a long time before I realized that it was in the present tense. The theme of forgiveness and taking control and responsibility for ones actions is beautifully written and skillfully told without being preachy and overbearing. The subtle nature of the relationship between Kartik and Gemma is narrated carefully. Gemma fantasizes about Kartik subconsciously and is angry when he snubs her. Her feelings for him are fueled by her backstory, her drug addicted father and pompous brother. She enjoys Kartik's attention and the ability she has to tell him off and make her own choices. She doesn't need him, but she wants him to notice her. I think the author does a wonderful job of exploring the feelings of a sixteen year old girl in a way that doesn't make her desperate, needy, or stereotypical. There is no deus ex machina in this story, everyone has to deal with the consequences of their actions and nobody gets their perfect happy ending. The characters are real, though at first they seemed a bit like cardboard cut-outs. Bray gives each girl a carefully chosen backstory and their background gives a bit more insight into who they are at the point where the novel takes place. Each girl has a yearning desire, whether it be for beauty, love, popularity and introspection. These are real desires, even if the girls circumstances are supernatural. There is still a reason for their wanting powers. The girls go to great lengths to get what they want, but they also have to take responsibilty for the actions they chose. As it is stated in the book "There are no safe choices. Only different ones." This story explores these 'unsafe' choices and does so skillfully. It's a little bit predictable at some points, but the twists are enjoyable and unexpected. The author gives you just enough information for you to come to the conclusion on your own. The author gives the reader credit for being smart and picking up on the clues and hints that she lays down. She doesn't throw things in the readers face. She allows the themes to work for her story and it gives a long lasting impression.
Dislike: I don't really like reading in present tense, but the story is so well written and carefully crafted, that I didn't really notice too much. (Though it did bother me when I was trying to write my story in past tense and had to sit for a minute to rework my brain. XD). The author has a little bit of trouble writing action scenes and tends to slow them down with description or a metaphor. I know her action scenes will improve in the next two books as the girls get in more dangerous situations.
Overall: This was a great book. There is still a lump in my throat from trying not to cry towards the end. It held my attention and I could barely tear myself away. The characters are really and the premise is fascinating. The most important thing was the theme and how that carried on into the story and came full circle at the end. I enjoyed reading this book and I am looking forward to reading the next two in the series.