23 June 2009

She Likes... Libba Bray

A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle, #1)

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray is the first novel in what is truly my favorite YA trilogy. I picked it up on a whim at a Books-A-Million a few years ago, and I devoured it, then was so excited to find out that that sequel, Rebel Angels, had just been published.

Gemma Doyle spends the first sixteen years of her life in India, but when her mother dies mysteriously on Gemma's sixteenth birthday -- which happens to be the day Gemma has her first "vision" -- Gemma is shipped off to Spence, a finishing school for aristocratic young ladies. There, she is plagued by continuing visions of a young girl and a creeping shadow monster, as she navigates a brutal girl world and deals with culture shock.

Gemma soon discovers the diary of Mary Dowd, who attended Spence years before with her best friend Sarah and who, upon her sixteenth birthday, was initiated into the Sisterhood, a group of women with magical powers and access to the otherworldly Realms. But something happened -- something terrible -- and the Realms were closed, the Headmistress dead, and Mary gone from Spence.

Eventually Gemma, along with her frenemies Felicity, Ann, and Pippa, find their way into the Realms and discover that the past -- Gemma's mother's death, the burning of Spence's East Wing, the disappearance of Mary Dowd -- is not far behind.

A Great and Terrible Beauty takes place in the late 19th century, and Gemma is a fish out of water: she is spunky, sarcastic, and independent, and she doesn't want to conform to society's rules for women. I adore Gemma, and I love the supporting characters as well, warts and all.

The best part about A Great and Terrible Beauty is that it is the first in a trilogy, followed by Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing. The worst part? The trilogy eventually ends. Its conclusion is faithful to the characters and the overall narrative, and it is both beautiful and heartbreaking.

I was so upset when I finished The Sweet Far Thing -- not because I didn't love it, but because it was over. However, I do appreciate it when an author doesn't drag out his or her series but instead has an endpoint that makes sense and makes it clear that the author has planned meticulously from the beginning. See also: J. K. Rowling.

So I'm excited for Bray's next book -- I read in Entertainment Weekly last week that her next book, Going Bovine, is coming out in September, and I can't wait! Now I have two September releases to look forward to (the first is, of course, Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games). In the meantime, I think I'll re-read A Great and Terrible Beauty...

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