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The Scandalous Sisterhood of PrickWillow Place

Reading The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place immediately transported me back into my pre-teen years, reminding me how much I devoured a juicy whodunit book, staying up late into the night to read it, and sneaking a read any opportunity available.

Julie Berry’s The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place has all the ingredients for a good murder mystery (the kind that you’ll see in Murdoch Mysteries or a Sherlock Holmes). And, a lot of that also has to do with the fact that it’s set in 1890 England.

The setting is a finishing school in Ely, Cambridgeshire. The charm of the book lies in Julie Berry’s thorough portrayal of Victorian England: the author has done her research to understand how people lived, worked, shopped, married, gambled, dressed and were buried, during this era. Ironically, poisoning had also become a serious problem in the late Victorian age, in part because life insurance had become more widespread. Researcher James Whorton has called it The Arsenic Century.

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place revolves around seven young ladies who are students of Saint Etheldreda’s School. Julie Berry has made it easy to remember her seven leading ladies by attaching a wonderfully unique moniker to each name that accurately describes each girl’s personality. All the young ladies have some sort of tumultuous past, and have been exiled there to become Headmistress Constance Plackett’s headache.

One Sunday afternoon, the seven enrolled young ladies were invited by custom to join the widow while she entertained her brother Mr. Aldous Godding. The privilege of watching the headmistress and her regular Sunday guest consume the veal that they, the young ladies themselves, had prepared, more than compensated for the lack of sufficient veal for all the table to share. Most Sundays the girls had learned to be content with buttered bread and hot beans. Such self-denial would serve them well in their future callings as wives.

Then the unthinkable happens. The irascible headmistress Mrs. Plackett and her surly brother drop dead, poisoned by something (or someone). Who killed them? And why? Mrs. Plackett wasn’t one of the warmest people one would encounter. Mr. Godding was revolting and rude; he smoked vial cigars, and whiskers were diabolical. He sure gave men a very bad name. But, were any of these reasons why anyone would want to murder the siblings?

Whatever the reason, the seven young ladies suddenly are faced with a bothersome dilemma. The school would most definitely be shut down and they all would be sent back to their homes.

In a split decision, they decide to hide the murders and convince everyone in town that everything is peachy. What ensues is a heart-racing adventure to solve this murder mystery and keep their deadly secret hidden. Julie Berry is able to make this absolutely farfetched storyline (complete with a transformation by one of the girls into the actual Mrs. Plackett) believable.

There can be beauty in getting lost. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a book in which you can completely get lost in the mystery, and all the suspenseful plot twists of an absolutely outrageous story. The author seems to have accurately captured everything right down to its last quirky detail, from Mr. NestlĂ© Swiss chocolate, to Elinor’s posture brace.

5 out of 5 Sukasa Stars

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is published by Roaring Brook Press New York, and distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books. Ages 10 and up.

Review by
@ShilpaRaikar for @SukasaReads (a division of @SukasaStyle

Shilpa Raikar is also creative strategist for Blink Advertising and contributes for