The Education of Bet by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

I’ll be honest – I was incredibly bored throughout the entire book. It is told in a very passive voice and I didn’t get a sense of the adventure, danger, or romance. The one impression I was left with was that it was like I was being told the story by an old lady who was matter of factly recounting what happened. There was no humor, no pathos, and absolutely nothing thrilling or interesting. By the time it ended, I felt like I had read a 170 page description of the novel rather than the novel itself.

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The story is this: Bet is the illegitimate daughter of the maid and a noble. When her brother Will is kicked out of school again, she offers to take his place while he runs off to the military. This means cutting her hair off and learning to act like a guy – something that will prove very difficult for a sheltered girl in the 19th century. Along the way, she will learn why guys act the mysterious way they do and find in her roommate James a companion and love interest. Once the school dance comes around and she can become Bet again – how will she ever tell James the truth?

At just under 200 pages, it is a slim read. This means that characters aren’t fleshed out too carefully and reasons/motivations may be sketchy. Half the novel seems to be about Bet deciding how to get around being a girl – rather than the excitement of being at school or building the relationship with James. For example, it would have been nice to know why Bet would go to such lengths to go to school – we never get the feel that she wants an education. Nor do we get any idea at all of the type of person James is – his character was as weak as it comes. The end of the story reveals: Bet’s secret history and James’ reasons for being at the school, just came out stupid and more like an afterthought. Very anticlimactic.

The gender-bender romance is a fun concept that is very popular in manga in Japan and Korea(Hanakimi, Ouran, Savage Garden, etc.)and I wish it had been more fun to see it explored in an historical setting.

I rate it 2 out of 5 stars because I would have liked to see a LOT more development in the characters. Even for YA, there were a lot of cardboard people (why is James quiet? Why does Will want the military so bad? Why would Bet risk everything for an education?….). It was an easy but throwaway read.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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