The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place cover

Would you like to read a mashup of Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, and Lumberjanes? Then The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, by Julie Berry, is the book for you.

The seven young women at St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls have been sent there because their parents find them too unladylike in one way or another. To make clear the “shame” they each bear (and help the reader keep them straight), each is referred to with a demeaning adjective, such as “Disgraceful Mary Jane” or “Dull Martha” or “Dour Elinor”. The seven are as follows

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place cover

  • Dear Roberta — a normal girl who isn’t yet sure what she wants or is capable of, someone whose gentle nature can’t stand up to her stepmother but with surprising powers of observation
  • Disgraceful Mary Jane — a too-friendly flirt capable of attracting almost any man
  • Dull Martha — a nice young woman willing to work hard
  • Stout Alice — whose solid physicality and acting skills allow her to impersonate the missing Mrs. Plackett when needed
  • Smooth Kitty — a plotter and organizer whose father would only consider a male heir
  • Pocked Louise — a scientist and aspiring doctor who values intelligence over appearance
  • Dour Elinor — a proto-goth with a taste for the morbid and macabre

When their headmistress is killed, the girls decide they’d rather stay together than go back to their previous lives. They attempt to hide the death from the neighborhood in order to run their own establishment, but their efforts are complicated by a murderer who won’t give up when it appears that Mrs. Plackett is still alive. While Louise works at solving the mystery, the girls learn more about their departed guardian and forge deeper bonds with each other. They only want to make their own choices and their own way in the world at a time when women’s independence was considered laughable.

Julie Berry writes with wonderful skill, capturing the details of life in 1890 and conveying them as part of a gripping page-turner. I wanted to spend a lot more time with this group of enchanting, imaginative young ladies. The book is intelligent fun, and the sisterhood inspiring. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

One comment

  • Simon

    Waited for the paperback after your review. Fun stuff, not unlike Wodehouse. (And ideal for commute reading, as the chapters are short and can be read on a day-to-day basis.) Loved how Disgraceful Mary Jane and Dour Elinor seemed to compete for the most outrageous thing to say. (And the latter scoring, p. 79.) Or the part about poison considered as a more civilized weapon (p. 202–203), heh.

    And, “Someday soon, she vowed, they’d purchase seven tickets for that train, and ride away from this overly inquisitive little city, where everyone knew everyone else’s face and business – where, ironically, the guilty could get away with murder, but the innocent couldn’t get away with innocently covering it up. There was no justice in the world, or at least none in Ely.” (p. 236–237) A young Shirley Jackson may have liked it!

    (P.S.: It’s gotten very hard to comment on your site, dunno if this’ll go through your plugins…)

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