Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Gemma Doyle 2011 Reread A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Followers, we have never truly discussed my insane love of all things Libba Bray.

See, ever since I came across The Gemma Doyle Trilogy in 2008 I have been a big fan of Libba Bray. TGDT is the one series that spoke to me completely. It was exceptionally good timing on my part and mesmerizing writing on Libba's. I've been in love with Gemma and her world ever since. From then on, at the beginning of every year I start rereading the series. This takes me about a month but it is always worth it.

I realize I've never done reviews of TGDT for you guys. I'm changing that this year!

Dust Jacket Description:

"Gemma Doyle isn't like other girls. Girls with impeccable manners, who speak when spoken to, who remember their station, and who will lie back and think of England when it's required of them.

No, sixteen year old Gemma is an island unto herself, sent to the Spence Academy in London after tragedy strikes her family in India. Lonely, guilt ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma finds a chilly reception. But she's not completely alone...she's been followed by a mysterious young man, who warns her to close her mind against the visions.

For it's at Spence that Gemma's power to attract the supernatural unfolds; there she becomes entangled with the school's most powerful girls and discovers her mother's connection to a shadowy group called the Order. It's there that her destiny waits...if only she can believe in it.

A Great and Terrible Beauty is a curl up under the covers kind of book... a vast canvas of rustling skirts and dancing shadows and things that go bump in the night. It's a vividly drawn portrait of the Victorian age, when girls were groomed for lives as rich men's wives...and the story of a girl who saw another way."

Characters: I can very easily say that Gemma is my favourite protagonist of all time. She's my platonic book soul mate if there ever was one. Her complexity and character arch astounds me with each and every reread. There are more than a few times where I find myself nodding along with her thoughts, stumbling over her emotions. I smile when she is happy and cry when she is in despair. I have a huge connection with Gemma as a character. She's changed my life and paradigm. It's an undeniable fact. Oh and don't think I'm done, for I have so much to say about the other characters.

The funny thing about AGATB or A Great and Terrible Beauty, is that you get the first impression glance at each of these four girls that the series focuses on and then it modifies through out the series. Gemma comes across as an ungrateful, dramatic brat at the beginning, Felicity is the controlling bitch, the ruler of Spence and the social order in it. Pippa is deluded and naive. Ann is impossible and meek. But what I love so much about these girls is how very much they contradict themselves, just as real people do. I love noticing the new complexities with every reread as I pay less attention to the plot and more the characters.

These girls are abandoned creatures with very few real mentors to help them with their trek through girlhood. The teachers at Spence are a great example of this, as are the parents through out this series. If you're a teen who can't empathize with Gemma's frustration with adults, I don't know what kind of magnificent world you're in, but I'd like to be there.

Kartik, the mysterious young man mentioned in the description, is also fairly two dimensional at the beginning of these books. He's clearly the obvious love interest to Gemma. But their evolving relationship is by far my all time favourite in all of my reading career. Seeing Gemma struggle with her sexual desires in a time where girls are only supposed to lie back and think of England, is also another interesting aspect to AGATB.

These characters are as real to me as the people I see in my real life. No one can tell me otherwise. 5 flowers.

You can hate TGDT all you want, but no one in their right mind can say that Libba cannot write. Her prose is the most delicious I've encountered. She always as something to say about feminism, grief, life as a teenager and society as a whole. Her descriptions make me salivate and her dialogue makes me laugh and cry. The lyricism of Libba's writing style made me fall wholeheartedly in love with her books. 5 flowers.

Plot: The first thirty pages of this book is extremely confusing for a first time reader. Please, do not drop it in your disappointment. It picks up by the time she reaches Spence, I promise you. Libba focuses much more heavily on the boarding school dynamics here than she does in any of the other books. The plot and pacing is significantly simpler. It's perfect for the first book, but it's also why AGATB will never be my favourite TGDT book.

Beyond that, I love all the struggles and joys the girls have to go through. Some people will find Libba's plot twists obvious. She's always had the uncanny ability to make me think one thing, negate that idea and then gasp when I realize I was right all along. 5 flowers.

It's heartbreaking but real. Oh so very real. It introduces you to the melancholy taste in your mouth you'll get with every book's ending. 5 flowers.

Dust Jacket Description:
I have a lot to thank to the person who wrote this description. In conjunction with the cover, it's exactly why I picked up this book. Yes, it has way too many ellipses and it's a bit too dramatic, but it sucked me in. That's the point. 5 flowers.

It's daring and seductive. It fits the book to a T. 5 flowers.

Yes, Gemma can be overly dramatic. Yes Libba's copy editor should work on her ability to address continuity over several books. Yes you might not like these books. But I did. I love them. For me, these fit perfectly. I'm more than head over heels in love with Gemma's world. You cannot convince me otherwise. 5 flowers.


  1. I love this series as well, I haven't had a chance to reread them though. Maybe I will try to this year. :)

  2. I've been trying to like Libba Bray's writing, but have learned that Going Bovine isn't my cup of tea. Maybe I'll try this series one more time. Thanks for the recommendation!