My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones’ first term at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy For Proper Young Ladies and it’s all a little bit peculiar. The headmistress hasn’t been seen for ten years, there’s no flowers in the garden, and the staff are on the edge of a nervous breakdown. And, when Alice-Miranda is set a series of impossible tasks that she must pass in order to stay in school, it becomes very clear that there’s something a bit rotten in the state of Denmark and it’s up to Alice-Miranda to discover what.
I’m a big fan of school stories so I was excited to discover the Alice-Miranda books. It’s written by an australian author – Jacqueline Harvey – and is the first of a contracted ten book series (the next four are already available).
School stories are, I think, a bit of a difficult genre to write these days. They’re a little bit archaic and either require a bit of JK Rowling up (chuck in a load of spells and emphasise the fantastical nature of the story) or a bit of Jacqueline Wilson type social commentary (emphasis very much on the ‘reality’ of life for these children caught in this unreal state).
There is a third option however: you can embrace the school story and write something that is very much aware of what it is. This is Alice-Miranda. I loved the self-aware nature of this book; how the headmistress was An Ogre With A Secret, how the Bad Tempered Girl Was Really A Good Egg, and how the cook Baked Luscious Cakes. Alice-Miranda is most unapologetic in what it is and I did love it for this.
Harvey writes with a fast, breezy style that I think would work well with the nines and under. Alice-Miranda at School is 261 pages and has 40 chapters which makes for a swift, and achievable read. It’s also very nicely structured and Harvey has several of her chapters follow a similar pattern (ie: encounter, resolution, coda) which introduces a strong rhythm into the book. I’d imagine this might be a book that could work very nicely into being read aloud.
Alice-Miranda herself is lovely. And she does make you smile. I loved how she was very much herself throughout and, even though the Alice-Miranda version of ‘herself’ is rather extraordinary, enjoyed the positive message this would send to a reader.
I always think it’s good if, when reading a book, I know exactly who I’d give this to. And with Alice-Miranda, I knew from day one. It’s going to a girl who’s exhausted the Malory Towers and St Clare’s books – and is boarding school obsessed.
And, just to clarify, that girl is not me 😀