Sunday, October 2, 2011

Review: The Education of Bet by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

The Education of Bet
by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
July 10, 2010
Borrowed from Library
Goodreads Page
Amazon Page
Grade: C-

Synopsis (from Publisher): When Will and Bet were four, tragic circumstances brought them to the same house, to be raised by a wealthy gentleman as brother and sister. Now sixteen, they've both enjoyed a privileged upbringing thus far. But not all is well in their household. Because she's a girl, Bet's world is contained within the walls of their grand home, her education limited to the rudiments of reading, writing, arithmetic, and sewing. Will's world is much larger. He is allowed—forced, in his case—to go to school. Neither is happy.

So Bet comes up with a plan and persuades Will to give it a try: They'll switch places. She’ll go to school as Will. Will can live as he chooses. But once Bet gets to school, she soon realizes living as a boy is going to be much more difficult than she imagined.

This book disappointed me greatly.  I’d really enjoyed Baratz-Logsted’s The Twin’s Daughter so I’d expected a lot from this one - plus there’s a boarding school setting and a girl dressing up in boys' clothes, and I’m nearly always a sucker for both!

Bet was an interesting character, but she was also very ‘what you see is what you get.’  There weren’t any depths to her character, and even though the book was told in the first person, I never felt like I got to know her very well.  Looking at that last sentence, it looks like I’m contradicting myself, but I feel more like there’s not much of Bet to know.  This doesn’t seem possible when one considers that she’s daring enough to come up with an insane plan to switch places with her foster brother. I find it incredibly intriguing that she was desperate enough to learn that she’d even consider such an idea, but that seemed to be where her character development stopped.  This is a very short book at just 186 pages, and I wonder if it was longer if Bet’s character would have had more room to develop.  I would have liked to see her gain maturity or a better sense of self throughout the novel.  After all she dresses up like a boy for months and lives away from home for the first time in her life, that has to change a person a little even if it’s just opening one’s eyes to the greater world beyond her foster father’s house.

Bet’s skills at impersonating a boy are put to the test when the action moves to the Betterman Academy.  I liked how her love of learning and even of the constant task of translating Latin or Greek passages into English contrasted sharply with the majority of the boys’ disinterest.  The other boys, however, are mostly (toned down) stereotypes of the British boarding school boys - there’s the bullies, the boys that assist to keep from being a target, the bullied younger boys, and the boy who keeps to himself and piques Bet’s interest.  Because of course she develops a crush on her reclusive roommate. 

When she reveals her real self to said roommate, he immediately is completely fine with the fact that the boy who he considers his best friend is a girl.  This leads me into another major problem I had with this book.  Everyone who found out about Bet’s plan was instantly fine with it.  From the house matron to the Headmaster’s wife - and the Headmaster himself! - to her foster father, they all seemingly immediately understood why she’d dress up as a boy and live in a boys’ dormitory in order to get an education.  The house matron and Headmaster’s wife instantly claim ‘sisterhood’ with Bet and help her continue her charade, and the men all seem to find her plan daring and worthy instead of being horrified at the idea.  That viewpoint just seems too modern to me, and while I understand that the author may not wish to examine all early nineteenth century mores, when the main conflict is that ‘a girl can’t get an education,’ I’d have liked to see some reason why that’s the case during the climax.

The character I really loved is Bet’s foster brother Will.  He’s the one character who seems to develop through the course of the book, and he’s consistently interesting and funny.  The reader can feel his reluctance and scorn at Bet’s plan dissolve into a fragile hope that he might be able to do what he wants with his life.  I especially loved the scenes where Will is trying to teach Bet how to move and act like a boy.  It’s rare in a historical novel that I empathize more with a male character more than a female - especially when all the girl wants to do is get an education! - but Will leaps off the page in a way that Bet never manages to.  I wonder if this book wouldn’t have been better served by a third-person narration since the author seemed to have trouble getting into Bet’s head even when she’s the one telling the story.

I wish I wasn’t so disappointed by this book, but as it is, I wouldn’t recommend it to many.  Instead I’d suggest you pick up Baratz-Logsted’s The Twin’s Daughter or, with me, wait to check out her new book about time travel called Little Women and Me due out in November.


  1. Reading the synopsis, I would have thought this might be a fun re-telling of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, but instead it sounds kind of lack-luster and disappointing.

    I might pick this up if I see it for a good price, but I don't think I'd go out of my way to find it. Thanks for your honest review!

  2. @Colleen - I was hoping for the same thing! Maybe with a side of As You Like It cause I love the Ganymede-advising-Orlando scenes like no other. And Twelfth Night was referenced a lot, but if that's where the book was going, it didn't make it. I was sad!

  3. Hey Emily, Great review...this is one of those books I keep telling myself "YOU NEED TO READ THIS!" I'll get around to it. Thanks for visiting my blog on Friday, sorry for the late reply (you know weekends!) anyhoo, great blog and I'm following you back now!


  4. Thanks, Katie! NO worries at all. Weekends are beautiful things and meant to be enjoyed. :D


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! I read and adore each one.