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A Great and Terrible Beauty

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A Great and Terrible Beauty Cover

ISBN13: 9780385732314
ISBN10: 0385732317
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. Despite visions and a special destiny, Gemma is not so unlike the other girls at Spence in her feelings of alienation and her yearning for acceptance. Gemmas need to fit into her new school leads to her being locked in the chapel in the middle of the night. Would you have made the same choice? Have you ever done something you didnt want to do, to get someone to like you? Have you ever taken advantage of someone who wanted you to like him or her?

2. The Realms are a place where anything seems possible. Each of the four girls wants one thing above all else: Felicity desires power, Pippa seeks love, Ann wants beauty, and Gemma craves self-knowledge. Does any of the characters achieve her goal by the end of the story? Why or why not? What would you want?

3. Gemma says of Felicity, “I dont yet know what power feels like. But this is surely what it looks like, and I think Im beginning to understand why those ancient women had to hide in caves. Why our parents and teachers and suitors want us to behave properly and predictably. Its not that they want to protect us; its that they fear us” (p. 207). What kind of power is Gemma talking about? What is it that she thinks the parents and teachers and suitors fear?

4. Women. Power. These two words conjure many images and emotions, and they appear throughout A Great and Terrible Beauty. What connections does Libba Bray draw between the two words? How does she characterize the Victorians view of powerful women? How do you think powerful women are viewed today?

5. Bray paints the Victorian age as a time when appearances must be kept up at all times. Appearances matter more than reality, and anything interesting is kept a secret. For example, Gemmas family hides the nature of Virginia Doyles death to avoid scandal. Likewise, in the Realms, appearances are deceiving. Gemma, Ann, Pippa, and Felicity believe their dreams are coming true-but is that really the case? What do you think the author meant by drawing a parallel between reality and paradise? Is it ever really possible to escape or change reality?

6. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly said, “Bray brilliantly depicts a caste system, in which girls are taught to abandon individuality in favor of a mans wishes, as a deeper and darker horror than most things that go bump in the night.” Do you think Gemma has achieved a certain freedom by the end of the novel? Are her supernatural powers responsible for bringing about this freedom? Do you think she would have been such a rebel if it hadnt been for her magic?

7. In Diary of an Author on AGreatandTerribleBeauty.com, Libba Bray says, “Why do we do this to our girls? Why do we spend a lifetime whittling them down into bite-sized nuggets, something easily digested that will upset no stomach? Why cant we allow them to ask for what they want?” Does the novel answer that question? If so, how? Do you believe that conditions for women have improved over the past hundred years?

8. The girls of Spence have a great deal of adult supervision, but there is a glaring absence of parental love. What role does this absence play in Gemmas and her friends lives and the choices they make? Do you think Pippa would have made a different choice had her parents behaved differently? How would Gemmas and Felicitys lives be changed if their fathers were available-in Gemmas case mentally, and in Felicitys case physically? What about Ann?

9. Its a dream, only a dream,” Gemma thinks of her sexually charged encounter with Kartik (p. 219). Why do you think Gemma stops the fantasy when she does? Why do you think the author chose to make this scene a dream rather than a reality? Do you believe this makes Gemmas experience any less “real” to her?

10. The Realms answer to Gemmas desire for self-knowledge is Virginia Doyle. Why do you think Gemma must understand her mother in order to understand herself? Gemma concludes, “Im going to have to let her go to accept the mother Im only just discovering” (p. 394). How are the two mothers Gemma refers to different? Why does Gemma have to forgive her mother first if she is to understand her?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 12 comments:

ladygraced, January 19, 2010 (view all comments by ladygraced)
An amazing gothic about a girl in Victorian England who is given the chance to be different and siezes it. This first installment in Libba Bray's "Gemma Doyle Trilogy" is a must read.
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(0 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)
megan s, June 14, 2009 (view all comments by megan s)
Despite its historical setting complete with its implications for the girls, A Great and Terrible Beauty's characters face similar situations to today's teenage girls. For Gemma, as for many teenagers, there is always that dangerous line between being herself and changing herself to fit in with her peers. Her friends' activities are at once attractive and repulsive to her, but Gemma is by no means perfect. She is spunky, opinionated, and outspoken. She is blunt and tactless when perfect manners are expected of her. She knows what's right but she does what's wrong. In other words, she is a very real character and one who is easy to sympathize with.

Bray's writing is richly atmospheric, effortlessly evoking the many settings of her story. From a busy Indian marketplace to a slightly spooky girl's boarding school in London to incredible magical realms, Bray's beautifully rendered places play almost as important a role in her story as the girls themselves. Her rich descriptions make this novel a particularly engaging page-turner.

Most significant of all is Bray's skillful handling of the problems inherent in being a young woman in Victorian times and her use of these issues to further our understanding of the particular grip the magical realms have on Gemma, Felicity, Pippa, and Ann. Girls are sent to Spence not to learn for the sake of knowledge but to store up the lessons that will make them good and cultured wives for some wealthy gentleman of their parents' choosing. Bray's characters are strong-willed young women who desire husbands and beauty and fluent French but also want to have their opinions heard, to be able to have the power to influence the courses of their lives, to accomplish things that women aren't even allowed to attempt. This understandable desire for choice and for power plays beautifully into the girls' growing obsessions with the magical realms that will open for Gemma alone.

A Great and Terrible Beauty is a delicious, spooky page-turner that doesn't shy away from serious themes. One of my favorite reads of the year.
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(4 of 7 readers found this comment helpful)
Mary Crowell, May 10, 2009 (view all comments by Mary Crowell)
This book is respectable and had its moments where the author wrote beautifully and with some depth, but for the most part, I was disappointed. I was expecting more than the typical "loner" mystery girl who falls in line with the beautiful and popular "in-crowd" of Mean girls.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780385732314
Author:
Bray, Libba
Publisher:
Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers
Author:
Zink, Michelle
Author:
Paul, Fiona
Author:
Eagland, Jane
Author:
Spotswood, Jessica
Subject:
Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Magic
Subject:
Schools
Subject:
Children's 12-Up - Fiction - Science Fiction
Subject:
Boarding schools
Subject:
Fantasy & Magic
Subject:
England
Subject:
Magic
Subject:
Bedtime & Dreams
Subject:
Historical - General
Subject:
Love & Romance
Subject:
Children s-Science Fiction and Fantasy
Subject:
fantasy;fiction;young adult;magic;ya;boarding school;historical fiction;england;supernatural;victorian;historical;gothic;india;friendship;romance;19th century;teen;paranormal;mystery;boarding schools;victorian england;girls;historical fantasy;gemma doyle;
Subject:
fantasy;fiction;young adult;magic;ya;boarding school;historical fiction;england;supernatural;victorian;historical;gothic;india;friendship;romance;19th century;teen;paranormal;mystery;boarding schools;victorian england;girls;historical fantasy;gemma doyle;
Subject:
fantasy;fiction;young adult;magic;ya;boarding school;historical fiction;england;supernatural;victorian;historical;gothic;india;friendship;romance;19th century;teen;paranormal;mystery;boarding schools;victorian england;girls;historical fantasy;young adult
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
The Gemma Doyle Trilogy
Publication Date:
20050331
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
from 9
Language:
English
Pages:
432
Dimensions:
8.25 x 5.5 in 1 lb
Age Level:
13-17

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Related Subjects

Children's » General
Children's » Historical Fiction
Children's » Historical Fiction » Europe
Children's » Science Fiction and Fantasy » General
Young Adult » General

A Great and Terrible Beauty Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$3.95 In Stock
Product details 432 pages Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers - English 9780385732314 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "In the opening scene of Bray's riveting debut novel set in Victorian times, narrator Gemma Doyle walks the streets of Bombay, India, with her mother on her 16th birthday. By the end of the second chapter, her mother, who has told Gemma to return home, is dead, and Gemma has envisioned just how it happened, involving a 'dark shape' that makes a 'slithering sound.' Next, readers find her on a train bound for Victoria Station, en route to Britain's Spence Academy. Gemma's visions intensify while at school, where she is led to a nearby cave and discovers a diary of a woman who had similar experiences. She soon learns of an age-old Order of sorceresses who can open doors between worlds-and of a tragedy two decades prior that is beginning to cast its shadow over her. Meanwhile, the girls of Spence are preparing for their 'season,' when they will be trotted out before wealthy bachelors in hopes of securing a good marriage. Bray brilliantly depicts a caste system, in which girls are taught to abandon individuality in favor of their man's wishes, as a deeper and darker horror than most things that go bump in the night. While aimed at female readers, it will be just as delectable to boys brave enough to be seen carrying a book sporting a corset-clad girl on the cover. The pace is swift, the finale gripping. A delicious, elegant gothic. Ages 12-up." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "An interesting combination of fantasy, light horror, and historical fiction, with a dash of romance thrown in for good measure."
"Review" by , "A Gothic touched by modern conceptions of adolescence, shivery with both passion and terror."
"Review" by , "A well written page turner, with strong characterization and dialogue, this Victorian-era gothic novel will find many readers unable to put it down until the very last page."
"Review" by , "Soundly researched and credible....[An] exhilarating and thought-provoking read."
"Synopsis" by ,
Love, lust, murder, mayhem and high society converge in one thrilling debut

Part Gossip Girl, part Edgar Allan Poe, and wholly beautiful, elegant and suspenseful, this novel set in Venice during the Renaissance is a true romantic thriller. When Cassandra Caravallo visits her friend Liviana's crypt and finds a murdered courtesan inside, her world is turned upside down. Before she knows it, Cass is involved with Falco, a grave-robbing artist, and on her way to discovering corruption in the elite Venetian society.

But will she find the man who's been savagely murdering beautiful young girls before he finds her? Will she stay true to her fiance, who's off studying law in France? Or will she succumb to Falco's charms? Beauty, love, romance and murder combine in a novel that's as seductive and stunning as Venice itself.

"Synopsis" by ,
A gorgeous, witchy, romantic fantasy by a debut author! Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and the Beautiful Creatures series!

Everybody thinks Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they're witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship--or an early grave. Then Cate finds her mother's diary, and uncovers a secret that could spell her family's destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra. But if what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren't safe--not even from each other.

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