Julie Berry's newest novel, The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, is nothing like her previous, All the Truth that's In Me (excepting a historical setting)--which may be a good thing. As moving as that book was, I found this one utterly delightful. It mixes so many of the things I love: a good mystery, Victorian manners, clever girl heroines, and humor.
The seven students at Prickwillow Place, Mrs. Plackett's boarding school for young ladies, are horrified one night at Sunday dinner when their mistress and her ne'er-do-well brother suddenly drop dead at the table of apparent poison. Instead of doing the expected thing--notify the police--the girls decide (at the suggestion of Smooth Kitty) to bury the bodies in the garden and keep up the pretense of their existence so that they don't have to return to their various unhappy home situations. From this point, of course, a wild romp ensues, beginning almost at once when the neighborhood descends for the surprise birthday party Mrs. Plackett planned for her brother. As the girls try to maintain the façade that their mistress still exists, keep house, negotiate suitors (the older girls appear to be 16-17ish), and solve a mystery, the plot continues to escalate. The premise is wildly implausible, but Berry executes it with such panache that I didn't mind at all.
While some reviewers have complained about the adjectives preceding the girls' names, I found them funny (and a fairly Victorian touch). Smooth Kitty is the clear leader, but I also loved Stout Alice, who was stout of both form and heart, Pocked Louise (a clever young scientist)--even Dour Elinor, with her fascination for all things macabre, had her charm.
The dialogue was witty, the characters interesting (if not always likeable), the situations funny, the bits of romance sweet, and the writing clever. Overall, a terrific middle grade novel. I'm not honestly sure how this appeals to the target 10-14 year old demographic, but I loved it.