Secrets at St Bride’s by Debbie Young

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I honestly don’t know whether this was meant to be a spoof or taken seriously.  I was expecting it to be an ordinary, if modern, boarding school story told from the point of view of a teacher.  Then, instead, it initially seemed to be a chicklit book about a woman making a new start after leaving her controlling boyfriend.  But then we got into the school stuff, and quite a few tropes came out, but I really wasn’t sure whether they were meant to be laughed at or not.  Some of it was just mad – the all-girls’ school had a handsome Alpha Male PE teacher (why was this not the case at my school?!) but, because the parents were meant to think that the staff were all female, he was listed in the prospectus as a woman, and the girls called him “Miss”.  It was like one of those TV programmes which you watch and think “Is it just me?” about, because you’re not quite getting it.  Or maybe I just overthink things.  The good news is that it was quite entertaining, and, if the sequel – coming out on July – turns up on the Kindle special offer list, I’ll be giving it a go.

Gemma has recently left her horrible boyfriend, and taken a job as a teacher at St Bride’s, a boarding school for girls.  She’s a qualified teacher but hasn’t had any experience, but the headmistress says that academic work isn’t everything and that what matters is being kind and caring, etc etc … very Miss Grayling.   The headmistress is called Miss Harnett, so everyone refers to her as “Miss Hairnet”, and all the rooms and houses at the school have nicknames, e.g. the dining room is known as “The Trough”.  OK, that’s all good tropey stuff, all good fun.

But then there’s the weird thing with the PE teacher.  And we’re told that most of the girls are motherless, because the person who left the money to found the school specified that it should try to help motherless girls.  Girls having lost one or both parents is another school story trope, very Chalet School, and it could have been done in a compassionate way, teachers in loco parentis etc … but, instead, the storyline’s there so that one of the teachers could keep trying to bag a rich widowed dad.  Which is quite funny, it its way.  So is the book meant to be a spoof after all?  Especially as there’s also a weird thing about a security guard with a network of hidden tunnels, a plot point which seems to have escaped into school story land from one of Enid Blyton’s mystery/adventure books!

One of the teachers turns out to be another teacher’s secret daughter.  OK, another classic school story thing – although, in traditional school stories, it’s always a pupil who’s a secret daughter, and the mum is always a respectable widow rather than someone who had an affair with one of the governors.  The bursar (now there’s a character always missing from traditional school stories) seems to be a weird stalker, but it turns out that it’s all completely innocent.  And someone’s stealing books from the library.

Then the dodgy ex-boyfriend turns up and tries to strangle the rich-dad-chasing, secret daughter teacher, having mistaken her for Gemma, with the rubber from one of the tyres from the Alpha Male woman-impersonating PE teacher’s bike.

What??

But then is it all meant to be taken seriously after all?  The poor little, far-from-home motherless juniors want someone to read them a story at bedtime.  And Gemma realises that she needs to reconnect with her own parents, with whom she fell out because they didn’t approve of the dodgy ex-boyfriend.

I really have no idea what was going on here!   But, as I said, I did quite enjoy it!

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