Posted by: teachergirl | June 26, 2010

The Education of Bet

The Education of Bet
Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010
Genre: young adult historical fiction
Interest level: Age 12+
AR Level: 6.0

Sixteen year old Will and Bet bear a striking resemblance to each other.  They have grown up like siblings in 19th century England under the care of Will’s wealthy great uncle.  Will has all the privileges afforded a boy of his station, including high-class education, but he wants something else.  Bet lives as someone between family and servant, and she wants what Will has.  When Will’s behavior necessitates yet another school transfer he doesn’t want, Bet offers him a solution—she’ll take his place.  While Bet prepares to walk, talk, dress, and write like a boy, she has no idea was really goes on in a boys’ boarding school and is in for a shock.

When I read a review of The Education of Bet over at Galleysmith, I was immediately interested in the story. I like “gender-bender” stories because I think they give an interesting perspective on gender roles and behaviors, and they’re usually fun.  Of course I would want to read about Bet.

Overall The Education of Bet was enjoyable and engaging—I read it in one go—but I felt it wasn’t long enough for me to develop empathy for the characters. I wanted to know what happened to Bet and Will, but my heart was not particularly concerned about the outcome.  Most of the events at school center around the bullying and the negative aspects of Bet’s experience.  We don’t get to read much about her thoughts and experiences with the actually lessons, which were the entire reason she became a boy in the first place.

It’s not that I didn’t like the book; it just wasn’t what I was expecting.  Most of the gender-bending stories I’ve read or watched have a great deal of humor and comedy tied to the hidden identity.  The Education of Bet has a more serious tone with just a touch of comedy thrown in.  I missed the comedy, and I found myself comparing the book to some of my favorite gender-benders (the Korean drama Coffee Prince and the Japanese manga Hana-Kimi).

However, I think this is a great book to get girls (and boys, too) to start thinking about the roles society presents to them today, and how things have changed over times.  It’s certainly not a weighty social commentary on gender issues, but for teenagers it’s a good snapshot.

Final thoughts on The Education of Bet: It’s library-worthy, something I would check out from the library, but not buy.

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