Girls with Sharp Sticks (Girls with Sharp Sticks #1) by Suzanne Young

Girls with.jpgI had a thoroughly good time with Girls with Sharp Sticks.  It’s a suspenseful book that kept me racing through the pages with desperation to find out just exactly what was going on.  It was so tense and the anticipation had me in it’s grips.

Let’s start at the beginning.  We make the introduction of Mena and some of her friends when they’re out on a school trip.  It’s immediately obvious that something is a little bit ‘off’ with the girls.  They’re so very well behaved, never putting a foot out of place and barely saying a word.   Unfortunately rain puts a stop to their outing and they’re all bundled back onto the school bus to return.  Along the way, stopping at a petrol station to allow some of the girls a bathroom break, Mena sneaks off to buy candy – something that is strictly forbidden, and she bumps into a young man and stays to chat – something that is even more forbidden!  Things quickly go a little bit pear shaped and the school guardian handles Mena very roughly when forcing her to return to the bus.  Now, rather than giving the guardian some attitude – which you can more than imagine happening, Mena is devastated by her own bad behaviour and overcome with remorse, not to mention an element of fear that she may be sent for ‘correction’.

The Innovations Academy is a finishing school with a very different agenda.  Here the focus is not on achieving brilliant minds but rather on making the girls attractive to look at, well behaved, well mannered and with the right balance of conversation to be an asset to any future partner they may be lucky enough to meet!  Doesn’t that just sound swell.  The girls have their makeup and hairstyles dictated, they undergo regular fitness regimes to keep them in shape and their food is carefully monitored – well, I say carefully monitored but basically all they’re given to eat is a gloopy green drink (supposedly packed with all the important nutrients) and incredibly bland salads.  They’re given ‘vitamin’ pills each night and if their behaviour is anything out of the ordinary, if they question the teachers or appear to act in any way different than the ways dictated by the school they are either given more ‘vitamins’ or sent, as a last resort to be corrected.  None of the girls know what happens if they’re sent to the doctor but there seems to be an undercurrent of fear about the whole thing and it’s generally perceived to be something to avoid at all costs.

Now imagine that some of these perfectly behaved girls start to be curious, about boys and other things, their curiosity is usually shut down immediately by the tutors but this really only seems to intensify their curiosity and the school responds accordingly.

Girls with Sharp Sticks is a difficult book to review in too much detail because the potential to spoil the whole read is very real so I’m not going to go further into the plot.

What I particularly liked about this story was the element of suspense.  And, in fact not just the suspense but also the girl’s, or at least Mena’s fears which became quite infectious.

So you may be wondering what the girl’s parents were thinking leaving them at such a place – I was certainly wondering why –  they’re basically ambitious, they have plans for their girls and this is an elite school with very few places so being granted a slot is so rare that the parents practically bend over backwards to accommodate anything the school wants, turning a blind eye to anything untoward  In fact the girls rarely see their parents, just at a number of scheduled school events where patrons of the Academy are also in attendance.

That leads me to the creep factor.  The tutors, doctor, head, guardian – well, all the staff at the school, are male – and let’s just say there’s this rather horrifying element of them overstepping the line.  It’s just downright cringeworthy in places and incredibly tense and threatening in others. In fact, now is probably a good time to point out that there are a few disturbing scenes so be aware of. Don’t be surprised to find yourself feeling downright angry and uncomfortable at a number of the events as the story progresses.

On top of the suspense and the slowly mounting horror which the author manages to achieve brilliantly is the friendships portrayed here. I can hardly recall reading about a girls school where the students were so nice to each other and it was a really refreshing change to be honest, the feeling of camaraderie and the lack of cliques and bitchiness.  It was just refreshing – in fact at every turn I was waiting for somebody to take on the ‘mean girl’ role but it just didn’t happen.

In terms of the world building.  To be honest it is slim, there are a few flashbacks but the majority of the story takes place in the school so there isn’t a wider feel for either the time or place.  I would say this is set at a point in the near(ish) future.  I don’t know whether I’d call it dystopian because I have no real idea at this point about how unique the school really is or whether this manipulation is much more widespread.  For now I’ll go for a futuristic thriller and wait to see how things develop.

I don’t have any criticisms.  I found this a gripping and fast read.  I didn’t second guess the ending although others might have done so, in fact I wasn’t really trying to, I just became so absorbed with what was going on that I never really took the time to consider the what ifs.  I was too busy gobbling up the pages desperately trying to find out what would happen next.

So, unusual school, sense of fear – are the girls being brainwashed somehow – what’s it all about?  Well, obviously I can’t tell you, if you want to know then you’ll have to grab a copy.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publishers, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

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