- Author: Rebecca Thornton
- Published: December 2015 by Twenty7 Books
- Category: Young Adult Fiction
In 1996, Josephine Grey and Freya Seymour are best friends and on the brink of great success. Both are students at the elite private school Greenwood Hall and Josephine, the daughter of the advisor to the Prime Minister, is heading for everything she has ever worked for: Head Girl, Oxford, the demons of her mother finally abated once and for all.
I first became aware of this book when Shelley Wilson chose it for her #FridayFiveChallenge. Most people, including myself, voted it a buy, so I was happy to accept a review copy offered by the publisher.
The story opens in 2014 with Josephine who is an archaeologist working in Jordan. When she gets an unexpected email from Freya Seymour insisting on a meeting she’s thrown into a panic. It’s obvious from then on that something dreadful happened between them. Josephine and Freya were best friends throughout their school days at Greenwood Hall. Josephine was head girl, Freya a prefect and they both had their sights set on Oxford. That is, until a celebratory night out turned ugly, the consequences of which changed both their lives irrevocably. The events of that night are unclear and remain so for much of the narrative.
‘But….’ Freya turns her head up and looks at me, desperate, and her legs are making little jerky movements, although the rest of her is still. I tell myself it’s the after effects of all the drinking and the pills, nothing else.
‘No buts. Are you seriously telling me you want to destroy all of our successes so far? Everything that we’ve worked for? We can’t let it all go down the drain. For what? For one night?
The chapters alternate between 2014 and 1996, both time periods told from Josephine’s point of view and in the present tense, which was a little confusing at times if I didn’t take note of the chapter heading. Personally, I would have preferred the schooldays storyline coming from a third person omniscient narrator, giving more understanding of, and depth to, the characters and so enabling me to experience the story through other eyes, rather than solely from Josephine’s perspective.
In 1996 Josephine is single-minded and focused, determined that nothing is going to get in the way of her goals, including listening to and helping her best friend who is obviously suffering. The fear of ending up like her mother affects Josephine’s attitude and personality immensely, as does the fact her father works closely with the Prime Minister, making her dread any hint of scandal.
Eighteen years later Josephine is tormented by memories and mood swings, after years of trying to bury the actions and disloyalty of the past. It’s brought to the fore again by Freya’s need to say the things Josephine refused to hear all those years ago. The plot is slow and steady with the alternating timeline. Both girls are damaged, and not only from the repercussions of that fateful night in Josephine’s case.
It’s a fascinating insight into an all girls environment, with the dynamics and interactions. I like the fact this story shows the darker side of boarding school life and the lengths pupils will go to achieve their aims. It’s interesting as well, to see how different people react to certain situations and how it impacts on them. And although I couldn’t warm, or relate, to the characters, I did feel some sympathy for Freya and her feelings of betrayal. The trauma suffered by the two girls was easy to guess, as was Freya’s part in it, but the storyline shows how the past can shape the present and hold sway.
This review is based on a free copy from the author/publisher. This does not affect my opinion or the content of my review.
About Rebecca Thornton
Rebecca Thornton was a freelance journalist before deciding to devote her time to her real passion, writing. She enrolled in the Faber Academy writing-a-novel course, where she was tutored by Esther Freud and Tim Lott. The Exclusives is the novel that came out of that course, which draws on her own experience of the pressures of teenage friendship and her reflections on the British boarding school system. Rebecca lives in London with her husband and two young children.
Rebecca can be found on Twitter