Monday, August 22, 2011
The Education of Bet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010
I'll admit that I picked this up partly because it looked short and I wanted a book I could get through quickly. But I kept reading because the story was so sweet and I really liked the characters.
Set in the early 1800s, Will and Elizabeth have largely grown up as siblings; both orphaned young, they were taken in by Will's uncle. At the start of the book, Will has just been expelled from his fourth school, rebelling against his uncle's expectations and desiring to join the army. Meanwhile Bet bristles under her unusual upbringing which is not lady but not servant and craves the educational opportunities that Will scorns. She then makes the crazy suggestion that she pretend to be Will so she can learn and he can join the army. Despite the many things that can go wrong, they set off on this path, each certain that they are destined for happiness.
Although this is a ludicrous scheme, I quickly got behind them on their quest because Bet and Will are just so likable. Bet's goal is especially noble as she actually values her opportunity for education while most of the boys she meets scorn it. How would they feel if they had only the expectation to stay at home, sewing and taking care of the house? Whereas Bet relishes her lessons and the valuable information she learns. I really liked their relationship as well as the presence of Will's uncle and their guardian.
There's an additional complication when Bet falls for her roommate, the unusual James Tyler. He is a bit of an oddity at their school and personally I felt he was a little too good to be true but I liked him nonetheless. Because this is a largely upbeat book, expect a good ending for them. Also expect to finish this in one sitting because it's short and very hard to put down!
Overall: A fun romp involving gender politics of 1800s England.