Climbing a Monkey Puzzle Tree
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Post JKR, boarding schools are back. But Woodmaston House for Girls is no Hogwarts and neither does it offer the Malory Towers adventure which Nancy, barely 12, had hoped for when she was shipped off to school in England from her log house home in Quebec in the Sixties. (The blurb tells us that the young Karen Wallace made a similar journey.) Nancy finds herself caged in a small-minded, mean-spirited, even vindictive world. Her only route to acceptance in the dorm is by telling nightly stories, playing out the other girls' fantasies. No matter how hard she tries, she cannot win favour with the malignant Nurse Blessed. Happily, Nancy is befriended by the sympathetic Miss Parkes who, inevitably, teaches English and admires Nancy';s written stories. The book (physically a pleasure to handle) will undoubtedly keep its readers turning the pages eagerly - I read it at one sitting myself. Those readers will presumably mostly be girls (or their furtive brothers) for whom the claustrophobic boarding school of the Sixties and the period references to Cliff Richard and Elvis could exert a certain fascination. The dilemmas, spats, jealousies and dreams are timeless. The dialogue is often amusing and certainly evocative of the best friends/worst enemies conversations of adolescence. To call the book 'undermanding' is not to imply a shallowness; but the text does not ask too many questions of its reader beyond posing the odd fairly transparent mystery. Any complexities are up there on the surface and the reader will want to keep racing along at headlong speed to make sure those that deserve them get their deserts and that Nancy wins through in the end.