A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, by Julie Berry, is more romp than realism, but this murder mystery, set in an English boarding school in 1890, has a disturbing opening: An adult brother and sister are poisoned to death, and their bodies are hidden in a garden. Later, an elderly man dies, and a dog is drugged. One of the characters, "Disgraceful Mary Jane," uses her charms to stun many of the male characters and kisses the town constable at a party. Other characters have crushes and romantic entanglements. Some adult characters smoke cigars and drink, including a reverend who preaches against drinking.
What's the story?
When the unloving headmistress and her awful brother suddenly die during Sunday dinner, the seven girls at Saint Ethaldreda's School for Young Ladies in 1890 England -- including their leader, Smooth Kitty Heaton, flirty Disgraceful Mary Jane, brilliant Pocked Louise Dudley, and more -- decide to bury the bodies in the backyard. They prefer to live free at school rather then be separated from one another and return to unhappy homes. Stout Alice even agrees to impersonate their headmistress, with the helpful makeup skills of morbid Dour Elinor. But a murderer is still on the loose, and even as the girls work together to both solve the mystery and cover the crime, the town constable and other adults suspect something is going on at the girls' school.
Is it any good?
THE SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD OF PRICKWILLOW PLACE is a clever murder mystery filled with loyal -- but rather outrageous -- protagonists. Dull Martha is pretty dumb and constantly mixes up basic facts; Dour Elinor wants to give the bodies Egyptian-style autopsies; and Stout Alice, who has to impersonate their elderly headmistress, channels her rather effortlessly.
Readers who can get past some of the grizzly details (the girls end up digging graves for murder victims, and one sleeps in the bed that a dead body has just been in), will have fun guessing the central mystery -- and wondering if the girls will be able to keep up their ruse as the facts start lining up against them. Close readers will appreciate the more subtle messages about women's limited options in the late 1800s, which is what drives these characters to go to extreme -- and sometimes illegal -- lengths.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the girls' decision to cover up a murder. Why do they do it? Is their decision justified?
Were you surprised by who was ultimately responsible for the crime? Whom did you suspect? Which clues were you tracking? How does The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place compare with other mysteries you've read?
A woman tells Kitty, "Some women are born with more independence than society offers them." What roles -- according to the book -- were available to women in 1890? How have opportunities changed for women?
- Author: Julie Berry
- Genre: Mystery
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
- Publication date: November 2, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 14
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: July 13, 2017
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