16-year-old Gemma has dreams, strange dreams. Visions of terrible beauty that just happen to come true. One of those visions leaves her without a mother, so she is forced to attend an all-girls boarding school called Spence in London. There, she meets a strange clique and, being clever, finds a way to join them. She also finds a diary at Spence, and a strange mystery leading her to discover her own full potential.
Libba Bray begins A Great and Terrible Beauty with the poem, The Lady of Shallott, which sets the tone for this dark and fantastical novel which takes place in 19th century London. Cinematic and gripping, A Great and Terrible Beauty is one of those novels you can’t put down, yet can’t quite finish, perfect for advanced readers. It reads like The Secret Garden, but with a more convoluted plot and an advanced vocabulary.
One definitely develops a sense of the expectations and obstacles for Victorian women and their freedom from this tale. Readers unlikely to pick up a history book may gravitate towards this happy mix of the historical fiction, fantasy, and romance genres.
Be whisked away, first to a 19th century London boarding school, where you will meet Gemma, a girl with a curious gift, and then to another realm entirely, through Gemma’s strange powers.
About the Author
Libba Bray has lived in Texas for most of her life; she now lives in New York City with her husband and six-year-old son; she has freckles and is allergic to penicillin. She loves punk music.
The first story she ever wrote, at the age of 12, was about a girl whose family is kidnapped and held hostage by a murderous lot of bank robbers who intend to kill the whole family–including the dog–until the 12-year-old heroine foils the plot and saves the day. (She had a thing for young heroines fighting against the darkness at a young age!) Along those same lines, her Pennsylvania Dutch great-great-great grandmother was supposedly a psychic who could see and speak to the dead.
Libba generally dislikes traditional “about me’s,” so here is her “about me” Haiku:
The Haiku Version
I grew up dorky,
With home perms and Led Zeppelin.
You ask why I write?
-19th century London
Reading Level/Interest Age
Throughout the trilogy, there are many gruesome deaths, and the fantasy element might not be everyone’s taste. Yet these books have developed a great following and have interested readers in more gothic fiction. Works by authors such as Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley, and Bram Stoker are considered great classics, and Bray’s work is of a similar mold.
Why Did You Include This Book?
Libba Bray has won awards for her most recent title, Going Bovine, most notably the 2010 Printz award.
- Best Books:
- Best Books for Young Adults, 2004 ; American Library Association-YALSA; United States
Core Collection: Social Class in Youth Fiction, 2007 ; Booklist; United States
Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, December 8, 2003 ; Cahners; United States
Senior High Core Collection, Seventeenth Edition, 2007 ; The H. W. Wilson Co.; United States
Senior High School Library Catalog, Sixteenth Edition, 2004 Supplement, 2004 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
YALSA Teens’ Top Ten, 2004 ; American Library Association YALSA; United States
- Awards, Honors, Prizes:
- Borders Original Voices Award, 2004 Winner Intermediate/Young Adult United States
Iowa High School Book Award, 2006-2007 Winner Iowa
NAIBA Book of the Year Awards, 2005 Winner Young Adult United States
- State and Provincial Reading Lists:
- Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award, 2007 ; Nominee; Illinois
Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award, 2005-2006 ; Nominee; Colorado
Garden State Teen Book Award, 2006 ; Nominee; Fiction-Grades 9-12; New Jersey
Grand Canyon Reader Award, 2008 ; Nominee; Teen Recommended; Arizona
Iowa High School Book Award, 2006-2007 ; Nominee; Iowa
Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award, 2005-2006 ; Nominee; Young Adult; Pennsylvania
Tayshas High School Reading List, 2005-2006 ; Reading List; High School Level; Texas
Teens’ Top Ten List, 2004 ; Nominee; United States