July 15, 2010

Review: THE EDUCATION OF BET by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

THE EDUCATION OF BET by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
YA historical fiction
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Hardcover, 192 pages
July 12, 2010 (in stores now)

From the back flap:

When Will and Bet were four, tragic circumstances brought them to the same house, to be raised as brother and sister. Now sixteen, they enjoy the comforts that come from wealth. But not all is well in their household. Because she is a girl, Bet's world is contained within the walls of their grand home and the constraints of her limited education. Will's world is much larger, as he is allowed - forced, in his case - to go to school. Neither is happy.

So Bet comes up with a plan and persuades Will to give it a try: They'll switch places. She'll go to school as Will. Will can live as he chooses.

But once Bet gets to school, she soon realizes living as a boy is going to be much more difficult than she imagined. Boys act very differently when they think there are no girls in their midst. In fact, they act rather brutish. But brutish Bet can deal with. It's more the attraction she feels for her roommate that gets Bet into real trouble. This is not the education she expected.

The cover: The cover alone made me want to pick it up. The color of the dress, the elegance of the model's arms, the leather chair and the dark shelves in the background? All gorgeous and inviting. After reading, I like the cover even more: the position of Bet's left hand, the veins in it (for in a Photoshop world, you know those veins were intentional), the porcelain of her skin, the lace detail on the dress, all point to the frailty of Bet's body, while the sturdy chair, the thick volumes, and the model's body itself – healthy, not sickly – hint at Bet's emotional and intellectual fortitude. Just a lovely, lovely cover!

The book: In Victorian England, there are few options for an intelligent girl who craves an education.
After sixteen-year-old Will is expelled from yet another school, Bet, who has always dreamed of a formal education hatches a plan: Will will teach Bet how to be a boy so she can take his place at school in the fall, and Will can persue his dream of joining the military.

But while Bet has a mind for learning, she's seen little of the outside world, gawking even at cows on the way to school, hair chopped off and wearing a suit, to assume Will's indentity at the Betterman Academy. Bet's naivete quickly gets her in more trouble than she knew existed, and the military might not be everything Will expected it to be.

At less than 200 pages, BET was a quick but enjoyable read. If Ms. Baratz-Logsted had made it 100 more pages, I would have gladly absorbed it, as I wanted more detail about Bet's world, which feels familiar and yet distinct from your typical Victorian England. In fact, it was refreshing to read a book about Victorian England that does not center around the London ton.

Bet's voice is both comical and determined, and mishaps of mistaken identity and misunderstanding abound. There is a moment toward the end of the book that I truly worried for Bet's safety, as well as moments throughout where I cheered her on in her triumphs over seemingly endless obstacles.

The writing was excellent in that I didn't notice it. No odd names or overused words pulled me from the book, which is rare. So many books are overwritten, but Ms. Baratz-Logsted did a wonderful job in letting the story speak for itself without the actual words getting in the way.

Some events that play out in the book seemed unlikely to happen in real life, so if you have trouble with suspension of disbelief, this may not be the book for you, but I found it a fun, funny read.

Recommended for: Historical fiction lovers in general, but especially those who enjoy tales of light-hearted comedy, mistaken indentity, or overcoming adversity.

ARC courtesy of Traveling ARC Tours.


The Readings of a Busy Mom said...

i walked past this today in my local book store and was wondering if i should buy or not...i may just do that now. GreatReview

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Phoebe said...

My first thought upon seeing the cover, even before I read your summary, was "Wait, is that a man in a dress?!" I suspect after reading your review that it's not Bet on the cover--it's Will! (explains the veins). Which is an awesome and bold choice.

Phoebe said...

Actually, reading more about the book, my interpretation sounds unlikely.

But, man, I've actually seen a lot of drag in my day, and does that look like a cross-dressed man. The hands, the arms, the shape of the upper chest . . . it's really strange.

Anonymous said...

Hi Abby! I'm just stopping by to let you know that I have something for you at my blog. Pick it up at your convenience. :o)

Abby Stevens said...

Readings - if you do read it, come back and let me know what you think. I'm always interested in other people's opinions.

Phoebe - that is so interesting, because when I saw the book I thought the woman looked very elegant (though now that you've mentioned it, I can see how one might think it was a boy in a dress!). Isn't it funny how differently people perceive things?

Elle - Thank you! Once I get back to blogging regularly, I will pass the award on. Thank you for thinking of me!

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