Goodreads: A School for Unusual Girls
Series: Stanje House #1
After a chemistry experiment gone wrong sets her father’s stables afire, Georgiana Fitzwilliam is banished to Stranje House, a boarding school for girls that has a formidable reputation. Those girls too odd to fit into society are rumored to endure torture in order to become marriageable misses. But Stranje House is not what rumors say. In reality, Emma Stranje is preparing her girls to serve as spies in the war against Napoleon. But when Georgie loses her heart to the handsome Sebastian Wyatt, all of Miss Stranje’s plans may come unraveled.
A School for Unusual Girls is a fun Regency-inspired romance that never takes itself too seriously. Although purportedly about a group of young women training to be spies in the Napoleonic Wars, the book really focuses on the chemistry between protagonist Georgiana Fitzwilliam and Lord Sebastian Wyatt. Fans of Jane Austen and of period romance will likely enjoy this series.
Reading A School for Unusual Girls does admittedly take some suspension of disbelief. Georgie is a chemistry genius who achieves her goals all too easily. She is also, despite her scientific aptitude, a bit dense. But the book is not really concerned with her supposed intellectual gifts, nor those of her schoolmates. All this is merely background for the plot, which centers around the possibility of dashing young men falling in love with girls whom regular society has rejected. Steamy, right?
Kathleen Baldwin seems to have a thing for dark, brooding heroes, at least so far. And, for some, the romance might be a little too passionate for YA, even though it never advances beyond heavy kissing. The romance is, furthermore, a bit unbelievable, as Georgie and Sebastian are practically engaged within two weeks’ time. The story mostly seems to hope that readers will be so carried away by the passionate love that they will ignore any timeline problems. And, I imagine, most readers will be willing enough to play along.
The main criticism readers may find with this book is that George is a product of her time. Most YA writers tend to write heroines who are extremely progressive, even modern in their outlooks. But Georgie, a young woman who comes from a well-to-do family, a family that we know is far from kind–they left her in a school to be tortured on the rack, as far as they know–is not modern. She finds her new Indian schoolmate Maya exotic and she describes Madame Cho as an “Oriental” woman who seems silent and sly. This does indeed seem to be Georgie’s perspective because book two of the series, narrated by Tess, does not contain stereotypes to these extents. Some readers may find Georgie historically accurate. Others may be too disturbed to want to keep reading.
Personally, I did find Georgie’s views on others to be rather disturbing and I had to make an effort to read past them. However, I would like to think that readers can use these perspectives as a starting point to discuss how we view and depict others. It is a bold move to write a historical character who does not share contemporary values. But the past was not squeaky clean and perhaps it is a disservice to readers to pretend that it was. Maya and Madame Cho are clearly facing difficulties that the others, rejected by their families and by society as they are, are not. Depicting this, rather than pretending that they are functioning in society exactly the same as the white students, makes me respect them even more. And it makes me hope that future books in the series will reveal more about their stories.
Overall, A School for Unusual Girls is an engrossing period romance with a dash of mystery and of adventure. I would have loved to see more of the other girls and less of Lord Sebastian Wyatt, but future books will focus on different students as the protagonists. Readers who like a passionate romance, however, will perhaps not mind Wyatt’s presence.