The young man looking back at me was handsome
and gave off an air of self-confidence.
There was just one problem; two, actually.
The barely discernible bulge in the front of
the trousers had been created by a carefully balled-
up pair of stockings.
And the young gentleman–I–was a girl.
Imagine, that “young man” describing what s/he sees reflected in a mirror is the 16-year old young woman on The Education of Bet book cover! Yes this is the latest YA novel by Lauren Baratz-Logsted (Crazy Beautiful YA, Sisters 8 series Book 5: Marcia’s Madness, The Twin’s Daughter YA coming August 31, 2010) released last week. As the author’s first historical fiction writing for teens, it’s witty, charming, funny and showcases a character determined to succeed in achieving what she wants most. And, given Bet’s background and the time period of the Victorian era, her desire for an education was an almost impossible dream.
Several reviewers have felt that Yentl was the book’s inspiration but, when asked, Lauren says:
“The funny part is…I’ve never even seen Yentl! Nor have I read the Isaac Bashevis Singer story that the film is based on. What I have read, and what was the inspiration for Bet, is the Tom Hughes classic Tom Brown’s Schooldays. I’ve loved that book, about British boarding school life in the 1800s, since I first read it in college. I wanted to explore what it would be like to be a teenage girl who desperately wants a particular kind of education. Could girls go to school in Victorian England? Sure. But could the dead maid’s orphan 16-year-old daughter ever get that kind of education? Never. Not unless she took drastic steps to achieve her own dream. So why choose to write historical fiction? I’ve made that decision three times: with the adult novel Vertigo; with Bet; and with the forthcoming YA novel The Twin’s Daughter. Each time it’s been because the story demands it. Emma Smith’s story only works in Vertigo because of the social conventions of the time and lack of forensic science. Lack of forensic science is also crucial for The Twin’s Daughter. And The Education of Bet requires a time and place where a girl like Bet would be denied the thing she wants most. Why specifically Victorian England? I just love that time period.”
Her love for England, wit, and moody romance were all able to be explored, along with the Masterpiece Theater influences of great clothes too. So, despite the fact that the story could have been set in contemporary times in a country where women still lack rights, the author concedes that the seriocomic storyline of Bet would be missing.
Here’s the synopsis:
When Will and Bet were four, tragic circumstances brought them to the same house, to be raised by a wealthy gentleman as brother and sister. Now sixteen, they’ve both enjoyed a privileged upbringing thus far. But not all is well in their household. Because she’s a girl, Bet’s world is contained within the walls of their grand home, her education limited to the rudiments of reading, writing, arithmetic, and sewing. Will’s world is much larger. 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.
TRUST: Lauren Baratz-Logsted has created a true delight by giving the reader a feisty, bright yet naive Bet whose education comes from more than books. At the Betterman Academy, she learns that a girl in a boy’s world holds more than academic challenges. Faced to deal with bullies, compulsory sports, dances, and the never imagined “falling in love” with your roommate scenario, Bet maintains her optimistic spirit and solid moral values.
Whether “acting” as a boy or a girl, she is special. An incredible role model for contemporary teens, this character will warm your heart while making you smile because everything about her rings true. The Education of Bet is not a morality tale, instead it’s an enlightening glimpse back at what used to be and, perhaps, how much young adults now take for granted. Better yet this novel of substance is simply fun and — again — oh so charming.
Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s The Education of Bet in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.