Blythewood is the story Avaline Hall, a 17 year old factory girl in New York, in the year 1911. Avaline is an orphan, having recently lost her mother, and is trying to support herself and deal with her loss when she is adopted by her estranged grandmother; Avaline’s mother had a privileged upbringing, belonging to one of the top 400 families, and attended the elite boarding school Blythewood. Avaline knew her mother attended the school, but was expelled in her final year, giving birth to her daughter under straightened circumstances shortly afterwards. Their is a mystery surrounding Avaline’s birth and her mothers expulsion, and the subsequent estrangement from her family. In the aftermath of losing her mother, Ava also witnesses an horrific and tragic event, spending several months in a sanitarium, wondering if she truly saw what she believed she saw, or if she is losing her sanity.
After being rescued from the sanitarium by her Grandmother, Ava is given the opportunity to interview for a place at the school, and is offered a place. Ava is nervous about attending a school where she will mix with children from the upper classes, when she has been working as a lowly factory girl, and fears she won’t fit in with her classmates( especially if they discover that she spent several months in a mental hospital); however the chance to attend the mysterious Blythewood school, where she can find out more about her mother and the circumstances surrounding her death prove too tempting for Ava.
What Ava discovers at Blythewood is both fantastical and horrifying, and she will never see the world in the same way again; many students when confronted with the truth decide to leave Blythewood forever, but Ava is obsessed with discovering the truth about what happened to her mother and the many students who have disappeared from the woods outside the school.
I found this book to be an enjoyable read; Carol Goodman books tend to have similar elements, they are often set in a school and involve Latin, mythology and fairy tales. I prefered the crime/ mystery novels that Goodman previously wrote, as the fantasy/ YA novels she has published, such as Water Witch, Dark Possession and The Black Swan Rising series have felt a bit forced; there was just something missing.
Blythewood is is the first ina new series, with the sequel Ravencliff being released in December; In my opinion this book is a promising start. The character Avaline is a very likeable, she is a very modern character, she is self sufficient, feisty, loyal and hard working. Ava’s viewpoint, the way that she questions the extraordinary occurrences in the book (sometimes questioning her own sanity) make the supernatural elements of the book more believable. The easy acceptance of the supernatural by characters was something I found off putting in the Fairwick Chronicles and the Black Swan Rising Trilogy.
In literature and popular culture there are the usual cliches when it turns out that the high school heart throb is a vampire, or the heroine finds out she has been living next door to witches or werewolves; these are usually expected, because how else do you get the story started? When there is an immediate acceptance and it turns out that everyone in the town is in on the secret and/or they also possess supernatural powers in my opinion it is just too much of a coincidence.
In Blythewood the characters are removed from everyday life and placed in an elite boarding school; the nature of the school is very secretive and it allows the reader to become wholly immersed in the world that the author is creating, allowing you to suspend your disbelief.
Goodman uses quite a bit of poetry in her writing, and I have to say that this is something I don’t enjoy; I get really annoyed when re-reading Tolkien – the long long long poems and songs, just get on with the story!- but these sections are usually quite short and illuminating. I love the imagery in the book, and you do get a feeling of the isolation and claustrophobia that is starting to set in after a long winter at Blythewood.
if you enjoy Y/A fantasy/ supernatural stories then you will probably enjoy this book; I have pre-ordered the sequel, and am interested to see how Goodman is going to move the story forwards.