The Education of Bet
by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Release Date: July 12, 2010
2010 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group
Softcover Edition; 186 Pages
Genre: Young Adult / Historical
Source: ARC from Houghton Mifflin Canada
3.5 / 5 Stars
When Will and Bet were four, tragic circumstances brought them tot he same house, to be raised as brother and sister. Now sixteen, they enjoy the comforts that come from wealth. But not all is well in their household. Because she is a girl, Bet's world is contained within the wall of their grand home and the constaints of her limited education. Will's world is much larger, as he is allowed - forced, in his case - to go to school. Neither is happy.
So Bet comes up with a plan and persuades Will to give it a try: They'll switch places. She'll go to school as Will. Will can live as he chooses.
But once Bet gets to school, she soon realizes living as a boy is going to be much more difficult than she imagined. Boys act very differently when they think there are no girls in their midst. In fact, they can be rather brutish. But brutish Bet can deal with. It's more the attraction she feels for her roommate that gets Bet into real trouble. This is not the education she expected.
This was an enjoyable, quick read about a girl who is unsatisfied with her lot in life and persuades her 'brother' that she can take his place at school in order for her to get the education she has always wanted. While I enjoyed the novel, I couldn't help but feel there was something missing however, and I never truly felt engaged by the characters themselves.
First of all, I felt the author did a great job explaining some of the social norms held several hundred years ago, although I was never really sure exactly what time period I was reading about. There were great glimpses into what was expected of girls and the level of education they were expected to achieve. There is a great discussion between Bet, Dr. Hunter and Mrs. Hunter that talks about girls and their education and why girls are not permitted into schools during this era; and yet, you can tell that the idea of girls and education is heading in that direction, just not quite at that time. There were some neat examples of how difficult it would be for someone to pull off trying to be the opposite sex for a long period of time, things I didn't think of, like getting your menstrual cycle and taking baths in a common room at school. There were some great insights into what school was like in the past and some of the harrassment that some of the boys, especially those who were weaker or had less wealth, had to deal with and probably little was done to stop it. As a teacher, I was definitely appalled at some of the things that occurred at the school and how they were dealt with.
I really enjoyed the characters themselves, but felt there was little in the way of character development. James was an intriguing character, but we learn so little about him that I felt somewhat disappointed and cheated in a way because I wanted to understand him better. While I liked the characters, I don't feel I really connected with them to a large extent and for me, this counts for a lot.
I also found the plot to be somewhat predictable and definitely rushed towards the end, which was too bad as there was a lot of potential in this novel. That there are under two hundred pages in this novel may have had something to do with this as a longer novel might have given the author more time to develop some of the events and the characters. The ending definitely felt rushed as if the author realized she was running out of pages and had to fill everything in right away.
I did enjoy the novel and I would recommend it as an easy, quick read, especially to those who like historical fiction, but there were some things I found somewhat disappointing in this novel. However, I have always enjoyed reading Ms. Baratz-Logsted's novels so I am sure this novel will appeal to many readers and I will continue to look forward to her novels in the future.