Published: 2014, Roaring Brook Press
Genre: Historical Fiction, Comedy
Audience: Middle GradeSource: Library
Find it: Goodreads
The seven students of St. Etheldreda’s School for Young Ladies thought that their Sunday dinner was like any other. They expected to eat their poor meal of buttered bread and hot beans while their headmistress and her brother ate veal. But this Sunday does not turn out as expected, as, upon eating the veal, both Mrs. Plackett and Mr. Godding fall to the ground, dead.
The unexpected turn of events has left the girls in an anxious state. Rather than being concerned about the fate of their headmistress and her brother, or even about who would have poisoned them and why, the girls instead worry about their own situations. Once the village of Ely and their parents find out about Mrs. Plackett’s demise, they’re sure to be sent away to their homes or other boarding schools, never to see each other again. So the girls make a pact: they’ll bury Mrs. Plackett and Mr. Godding and find a way to keep the school going with no one the wiser.
To put it simply, The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a farce. This is a story of exaggerations and is frequently tongue-in-cheek. The story takes place in Ely, England in 1900 and focuses on the absurdity and hilarity that ensues as seven friends try to cover up their headmistress’ murder. The seven leading ladies of this tale are: Dear Roberta, who is both sweet and genuinely good, Disgraceful Mary Jane, who enjoys the power of seduction, Dour Elinor, who fascinated with all aspects of mortality, Dull Martha, who is a bit slow on the uptake, Pocked Louise, who harbors a love of science, Smooth Kitty, who is the leader of their little band, and Stout Alice, whose heart belongs to the stage.
Underlying improbable situations, however, are some worthwhile messages, including that of sisterhood. As one of the girls points out, none of them have any sisters. The friendships they’ve formed with each other are therefore that much more powerful, that much more important to them. Theirs is a sisterhood formed not simply by blood, but by choice, and it’s one they’re willing to do just about anything to keep intact.
Woven within the farcical elements is a more typical murder mystery story. Who killed Mrs. Plackett? Why? Are the girls themselves in danger? Despite the small town atmosphere that Ely has, Berry has created a story full of red herrings, where nothing is cut and dry, and where each person remains a suspect until the big reveal. The mystery aspect is very well done, and combined with the humor it makes for a very readable, entertaining book.
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a delight to read in novel form, but it is something I could see becoming even stronger if told on the stage. The characters could become more distinct, the humor more pronounced, the wit that much more apparent if made into a play.
As a book, though, it still provides an absolutely memorable reading experience. Berry has created a story that believably pulls together elements of historical fiction, farce, murder mystery, and sisterhood. It’s absolutely worth reading.
Rating: 4.5 stars