January 29, 2009

The New Girls by Beth Gutcheon

BOOK #: 9

The New Girls is about five girls who spend their formative years at a prestigious prep school in the mid-sixties. Between the traditions of the school and their parents, and the new realities of the women's movement, Vietnam war, and the sexual revolution, the girls' lose their innocence and are transformed into women uniquely shaped by the times.

This book had wonderful reviews from The New York Times Book Review to the Library Journal. And the story seemed fresh to me and exciting. I always have loved learning about the sixties. I know that if I had been alive at the time my rebellious and independent spirit would have fit right into the times. I received the book and read the first chapter. The five girls- Lisa, Jenny, Muffin, Sally, and Ann were all grown up and returning for their 20th reunion. Only Sally, the most likely to show up, the most energetic about the reunions, did not arrive. They were soon told Sally had committed suicide. Well, I wanted to know more. Why had the girl who had been the most excited about seeing her friends again and reliving their prep school days, taken her life?

The next chapter went back to their first day at Miss Pratt's, the day they met. It was interesting to learn of their backgrounds and their personalities and quirks. It was even interesting to hear what a boarding school was like, myself never having been to one. But by the halfway point, I was growing weary. I was still reading about the first year!

The characters had some good story lines, and the characters were interesting, if not well-developed. Mostly, I was very tired of the narrative. Every detail about Miss Pratt's was told, and ninety percent of it was told in narrative form. I would have much rather learned more about the school through the girls' stories and dialogue. It became more and more boring with every page I turned.

Soon I stopped turning the pages. I wanted to find out what happened to Sally, but the chapters became so mind-numbingly boring after a while that I hardly cared at all anymore. I decided to turn to the last chapter and just read it to see what happened to Sally. This should be easy, right?

I couldn't even finish the last chapter. It was more of the same. I just did not care anymore. I closed the book and was through with it. Sometimes it is just not worth your time to finish a book no matter how much you want to have it finished.

I confess that I have had a lot going on in my life lately and perhaps the trials and tribulations of girls at a prep school seemed too frivolous and light compared to my reality. I was hoping it would be a good escape for me, which is what good books can do for you. But The New Girls did not help me to escape. I just felt frustrated at all of the narration and the lack of good dialogue and flow in the book. I felt it was stagnant. Were they ever going to even get to their second year? Did I even care if they got there? If the book cannot move along any faster than this, I cannot maintain my attention. It's how I am. Maybe if I had read it at a different period in my life I would have liked it more, but I know it would not have ever been a memorable book to me.

If you are searching for a good schoolgirl book to read, I don't recommend this one. Obviously, I am in the minority when I look at the reviews, but I just could not get into this book at all. And I was so interested after the first chapter! Gutcheon hooked me and then disappointed me. I hear her other books are better, but it will be difficult for me to pick up another of her novels with this being my first experience with her writing.

Have you read The New Girls? What did you think? What about Gutcheon's other novels? Are they worth the effort?

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