Second Form at Malory Towers is (surprise, surprise) the second book in the Malory Towers series. First published in 1947, a year after First Term at Malory Towers.
Once again we join Darrell Rivers on her way to Malory Towers down in Cornwall. The second journey however we are treated to the company of Sally Hope as Darrell’s best friend. The two girls are seen to be very close, a complete change from the first book. This gives us some insight to the past year of the girls’ lives at Malory Towers, but mostly in regards to Darrell’s famous temper.
Almost immediately we are treated to a different Sally – happy, carefree and such a lovely change from the first novel. Instantly she is seen to be a very good friend for Darrell and in her way a very charming character. Second Form at Malory Towers is not so much Darrell’s book as it is Sally’s. We get to see Sally as head girl of the second form, promoted over older girls because of her sensible and caring nature. Alicia Johns takes great offence to this.
The second book is where my dislike for Alicia’s character really grips me. In Blyton’s books the message that’s always relayed is that nasty people receive a comeuppance but Alicia’s always seem slight and never quite achieves the required effect on her. From the moment Sally is made head girl of the second form on the second day of term, Alicia decides that she will not follow Sally’s rules – beginning as an almost quiet protest. She calls Sally “such a bore” which seems unfair. Head girls are chosen for their qualities – good work and a calm nature – not for playing tricks on the mistresses! Alicia almost seems a little immature in the second form for her outbursts continue – culminating in an explosive confrontation with another girl in the form.
Three new girls grace the pages of Second Form: Belinda Morris, a scatter brained artist who draws caricatures like a political cartoonist for a newspaper, Ellen Wilson, a rather moody scholarship girl and Daphne Turner, a not-all-she-seems pretty girl who is instantly Gwendoline Lacey’s favourite.
The first fun of the term starts when Alicia and her friend Betty Hill are restless and decide to play a trick on their unsuspecting music master. The trick itself is genius, simple and quite a hoot. When I was little I always wanted to get my hands on some “invisible chalk”. It was clearly one of the safest tricks that is played in the Malory Tower’s series.
The first time the trick is played it comes off perfectly, with hilarious results, however when the trick is played a second time it’s not quite as successful. You’ll have to read the book to find out more specifically – but as a result Alicia becomes very cold towards Darrell, trying to wind up our heroine and make her lose her temper.
After the tricks, things really start to kick off for the second formers. Belinda’s artistic flare gets the better of her and she captures a feud between the two Mam’zelles. The fight is over the casting of the lead characters in the two French play that the girls will be doing. Mam’zelle Dupont wants Daphne – her current favourite – to take the parts while Mam’zelle Rougier would like anyone but Daphne to take the parts. Needless to say that the mistresses come to blows, and the situation only comes to a close with the ‘help’ of Belinda’s drawings.
Once the problems with the Mam’zelles have been sorted out the term starts to move by quite quickly and as a reader you start getting more into the action and wondering what the girls will be up to next. Now is when the focus is brought back to one of our new girls, Ellen Wilson, who isn’t doing very well academically even though she should be as a scholarship girl. Problems arise and Sally asks Jean (the shrewd Scot’s girl) to befriend her in the hope that it will make Ellen less snappy.
Along the way we start to discover that girls’ personal belongings – money and jewellery – have gone missing. Oh golly – there’s a thief in the second form. Everyone begins to suspect Ellen, and Alicia even confronts her about it against Sally’s wishes. Poor Ellen. I do feel for her as a character – not at first maybe but certainly later on. I relate to her work wise as well. Ellen says quite a few times that she has to slog really hard to achieve her fine results: I too have to work hard to get good results in my work.
Without giving too much more away, I shall tell you that there is a twist to the plot in this story and it’s handled very well.
Overall, Second Form at Malory Towers is not one of my favourites, but I do still like it because we get to see more of people’s characters. Sally Hope isn’t in the background as much as in later books. Belinda and Irene simply make for the most astonishing situations, and the invisible chalk trick is really quite brilliant.
There is a point in the book where the headmistress, Miss Grayling, is talking about good and bad and one quote really stands out for me, so I thought I would share it.
“We all have good and bad in us, and we have to strive all the time to make the good cancel out the bad. We can never be perfect – we all of us do mean or wrong things at times – but we can at least make amends by trying to cancel out the wrong by doing something worthy later on”
This statement really gets me as it talks about how everyone has a choice, how you can be whatever you want to be and that people can change. I think it’s an incredibly important lesson for us all to take on board.
It is a very readable book (aren’t they all?) and there is a darkness to this story, almost like a cloud that hangs over the plot, creating atmosphere. It really is a thrilling read. I love the way the characters interact and Sally come more to the forefront of the book than she has previously and ever will do again really. This is one thing that grieves me about Malory Towers is that Sally (particularly) starts off with the potential to be such an interesting character and all her flare is gone by the end of book two it feels.
Apart from my personal grievances about the characterisations after Second Form at Malory Towers, it really is a book to get your teeth into and enjoy! So I suggest you pick it up and give it a go, you won’t be disappointed!
Next review: Third Year at Malory Towers
Or read a review of the audio adaptation of Second Form here.