By: Libba Bray
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 2005
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: July 2008
A Great and Terrible Beauty is an exceptionally well-crafted novel that will leave its mark upon its young adult readers. It follows the story of Gemma Doyle, a young girl in nineteenth-century England. After the unexpected loss of her mother, Gemma is sent away to school. She struggles to adjust to her new finishing school, Spence Academy for Young Girls, while also coping with the loss of her mother. At the same time, she begans to have strange visions. These visions of are people, places, and events that she is unable to identify. Are they from the future, the past, or perhaps simply meaningless random thoughts that are the result of the stress she is under. She is confused and has nobody to turn to for help.
When Gemma finds her mother's diary, she reads about strange places her mother called the realms, a parallel world where both good and evil exist. Gemma finds the clues within the diary for entering the realms and soon she and her friends journey there and are able to experience life as they desire. The friends travel back and forth between the realms and the real world, but it isn't long before Gemma realizes that Kartik, a mysterious young man, has been following her. He warns her not to enter the realms and to refrain from having visions. Gemma must decide whether to heed his warnings or continue indulging in the magic of the realms.
There is a reason why Libba Bray is one of the hot new authors of the high school crowd. She knows what type of story will draw teens away from their computers and into a fascinating world of gothic thrills. Her wonderfully descriptive words create a visual world full of action and adventure. Within a few pages, the reader is enthralled with the lives of Gemma and her friends. Because of Bray's descriptive skills, the reader is also easily able to visualize the gothic world the characters live in.
The story is both a Victorian-style mystery and an exquisite fantasy. The characters are easy to relate to and their problems are ones that young readers could easily imagine in their own lives. As Gemma narrates the story, readers will find themselves laughing along with her quirky remarks while also concerned about her safety as she travels to the realms.
Quill says: This excellent story will have readers unable to put the book down.