Author: Alyssa Colman
Publication: Farrar Straus Giroux, hardcover, 2021
Genre: Middle-Grade Historical Fantasy
Setting: New York, 1905Description: Emma Harris is brought to New York by her affluent architect father to attend an exclusive boarding school, Miss Posterity’s Academy for Practical Magic, which teaches well-born twelve-year-olds how to “kindle” or start channeling their magic skills as quasi-adults. The lower class, which includes Izzy, the overworked servant at the school, have their magic snuffed out, like it or not – and Izzy does not. When Emma’s father dies in the San Francisco earthquake, she is penniless and her only options are to slave for Miss Posterity with Izzy or the workhouse! Emma has to set aside her prejudices to partner with Izzy who helps her cope with her new servant responsibilities in return for Emma’s secretly teaching her how to kindle. It’s a dangerous plan but Emma is determined not to give up on her father’s dream for her and Izzy is desperate to find her younger sister, last seen on an Orphan Train to the Midwest . . .
My Impression: A Little Princess is one of my all-time favorite books so I will admit that I was somewhat suspicious of this fantasy version and it took me a while to decide whether I liked it. However, I appreciated the author’s creativity – we all know that magic and boarding schools and orphans are an irresistible combination but the storytelling is important too. Add some appealing characters: Izzy, the servant girl who resents Emma until she gets to know her; Tom Sabetti, a Newsie from a warm Italian family; Figgy Pudding, the cat; and bullied Frances Slight, and the book wound up working for me. I especially appreciate the way the friendship developed between Emma and Izzy. I also liked the framed cross-stitch mottos around the school that change magically from, for example, Being around our betters, betters us to Charity doesn’t pay when Emma is downgraded from parlor boarder, so to speak, to scullery maid.
“You’re not supposed to talk to us anymore,” Lucy reminded her.Emma mutters “grace and poise” to herself when she is insulted or abused, determined to make her parents proud even if they are gone. I relate to this because my coworkers tease me that I mutter “radiate calm” in trying situations. Of which there are many!Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by the Intrepid Reader. There were times when I felt the language was anachronistic (“Beatrice’s scalloped potatoes looked pretty good,” like instead of as, “It felt like everyone was out to get her” and so on). A careful editor would suggest phrasing that doesn’t jolt the reader out of 1905. This is just as important for juvenile readers as for adults, so I hesitated but generously judged it a 4/5.
Emma had forgotten. “But – but you’re my friends,” she stammered.
“Friends?” Beatrice flipped her hair over her shoulder. “I’m sorry about your father, I really am, but you have to understand that we can’t be friends now.” Her lip curled with distaste as she eyed Emma’s apron. “My father would be mortified if I were friends with a servant.”
Source: I found this nicely displayed at the Watertown Library.