Absolutely loved this one by Karen Russell, and for two reasons: it was a bit off the wall–a convent school run by nuns for, well, girls who have been raised by wolves, and secondly, because it was well done.
Normally I dislike some of these great concepts because they’re simply unbelievable and not well enough constructed to overcome any reticence about suspending disbelief. Karen Russell makes it easy. I have absolutely no problem with her characters growling at each other and spraying to mark their territory–as a matter of fact, the one thing that almost stopped me was the spraying, in that I thought it was just males that did that. How’s that for total trust in a writer?
It’s written pretty tongue-in-cheek, and once you’re in the groove it all works according to story plan: conflicts between the girls, the girls and the nuns, the girls and learning to be human girls, all pace the story. For me, the grounding was in the attitude of the nuns–personal memory confirming their behavior. The transition for the students–and there’s a school for boys as well so that a dance becomes a proving ground or trial for them–is hysterical in its fallbacks to learned behavior and instinct.
The brothers didn’t smell like our brothers anymore. They smelled like pomade and cold, sterile sweat. They looked like little boys. Someone had washed behind their ears and made them wear suspendered dungarees. Kyle used to be the blustery alpha male BTWWWR!, chewing through rattlesnakes, spooking badgers, snatching a live trout out of a grizzly’s mouth. He stood by the punch bowl, looking pained and out of place.
"My stars!" I growled. "What lovely weather we’ve been having!." (p. 336)
By playing on the typically awkwardness of teenage interaction, Russell has compounded a scenario of conflict while making it very familiar to the reader. I mean, these are just kids at their first dance, and instead of being cautious not to speak too loud or dance on somebody’s toes, they need to be careful to rein in their instincts to attack and eat the nuns who are chaperoning.
Altogether a most delightful read. Even some more serious contemplation by a final statement, in case the reader missed some of the more subtle references to human nature.