Bray, L. (2003). A great and terrible beauty. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.
Plot Summary: When Gemma begins attending Spence boarding school one of her teachers tells the girls about a mysterious group of witches that used to live in the area and call themselves the Order. Gemma and her friends are inspired to start their own order. Gemma has always had visions of the future that come true and at the school she learns she has even more powers. She begins opening the realms another world of magic for her friends. When they start using the magic of the realms to play pranks at the school they begin to poison the realms with corruption. When she learns of this corruption she is reluctant to bring her friends back. When she agrees the girls are attacked and one of the girls, Pippa, becomes trapped under the ice of the river while the girls are escaping. This leaves her unconscious in the real world. Gemma goes back into the realms to fix things but Pippa decides to stay in the realms eating some berries so that she dies in the real world and doesn’t have to marry the old man her parents want her to.
Critical Evaluation: The story has good character development, it is interesting to see how Gemma’s knowledge of her own power unfolds. The friendship between the girls also develops throughout the book. One of the girls Felicity originally begins the story as an enemy of Gemma’s, scheming to get her in trouble. Pippa joins the group simply as a hanger on of Felicity’s. The last girl Ann is Gemma’s friend and roommate but is not liked by the other girls because she is there on scholarship. They form their Order when Felicity has the idea and Gemma blackmails her into letting her and Ann join despite this rocky beginning the group develops a tight friendship.
Reader’s Annotation: Gemma has always had strange visions of the future but when she begins attending private school she discovers her powers greater than she ever imagined.
Author Information: Libra Bray has written many popular books for young adults. This includes her new series the diviners whose second book is coming out in August 2015.
Booktalk Ideas: 1) Which of the girls do you most identify with, and what did that character want in the realms?
2) How do the girls gain power from their adventures in the realms?
Reading Level & Interest Level: The book is listed as being for ages 12-17 which fits the reading level. I would list the interest level as being slightly older as the characters are older teens.
Challenge Issues: This book should not have any challenge issues. Later books in the series do have some mentions of sex and in case sexual abuse. These scenes are not gratuitous or graphic and play an important role in the story. The books are popular, unique, and and well reviewed as well.
Why is it included?: I really enjoyed these books as a teen and I wanted to include some of Libba Bray’s work and thought it would be interesting to cover this book rather than her more recent series which is not complete yet. This series is still popular with teens which makes it a good choice.