The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

368p. Roaring Brook. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781596439566; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781596439573.
Gr 6 Up—In this Victorian boarding school murder mystery, seven young women find themselves gloriously free from adult supervision when their judgmental, penny-pinching headmistress and her good-for-nothing brother die suddenly during dinner. Rather than alert the authorities and risk having the school shut down and all the students sent home, the girls decide to keep things under wraps and proceed as if the late headmistress and her brother were still alive. But first they'll have to bury the bodies in the garden without attracting the notice of busybody neighbors, potential suitors, a suspicious housekeeper, and a host of charmingly annoying villagers with a penchant for showing up at the worst possible moment. While juggling mounting debts and increasingly precarious fabrications in order to keep up their charade, the students also try to discover who poisoned the deceased—and why. Berry's prose is reminiscent of the dark comedy and melodrama of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" mysteries. Each girl at Saint Etheldreda's School is defined largely by an adjective that precedes her name: Dear Roberta, Disgraceful Mary Jane, Dull Martha, Stout Alice, Smooth Kitty, Pocked Louise, and Dour Elinor. The nicknames are illustrative of the insidious ways in which women and girls were pigeonholed and denigrated in the patriarchal society of 19th-century Great Britain, and over the course of the story, the characters prove that their supposed weaknesses are often the sources of great strength and ingenuity. That said, the device is used throughout the entirety of the book and will wear thin with some readers. The pacing slows midway, though kids will want to read on—if only to find out if the sisterhood winds up behind bars for all of their shenanigans. Overall, this is a well-researched, clever, and deliciously dark comedy with an emphasis on female empowerment.—Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal
This airy confection is part murder mystery, part girls'-school story, part dark drawing-room comedy. In 1890 England, seven students--our heroines--attempt to solve the murder of their headmistress and her ne'er-do-well brother while concealing the deaths to remain together at the school. Berry takes her madcap seriously, never breaking character when it comes to the old-timey setting or details. An entertaining, smart, and frothy diversion.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing