As my library will hopefully be reopening again soon I thought I really should read a few more of the 15 or so books I’ve had out for over a year. I’m getting deja vu over that statement so I’m sure I must have said this the last time I reviewed done of these books, or on some other post at least.
I have at least already read, reviewed and returned The Naughtiest Girl Keeps a Secret, The Naughtiest Girl Helps a Friend and The Naughtiest Girl Saves the Day so that when we reopen other people can borrow them and enjoy their dubious plots and characterisations. And after Well Done, The Naughtiest Girl I only have to subject myself to two more!
The best one yet?
Now that may not sound like a great honour as I’ve been pretty scathing in my reviews of the previous three books, but I did give this three stars while the others have had either one (Saves the Day) or two (Keeps a Secret and Helps a Friend).
I can’t praise it whole-heartedly as it’s nowhere near on par with the originals but it does a much better job both plot-wise and character-wise.
There are three storylines in the book which are woven together with mixed success.
First, after the play Elizabeth starred in in the last book her place in the form has dropped and she is terrified she won’t be able to move up to the second form next term.
Secondly, she has also let her piano practice slide and Mr Lewis is not happy with her. There is to be a special concert at the end of term and Elizabeth wants to be picked to play, but she must practice very hard to have a chance.
And thirdly, Elizabeth discovers an old oak tree growing just outside the school walls is to be cut down and she wants to save it.
All these stories fit together. The first two involve Arabella who is competing with Elizabeth for form place, and also to perform in the concert. When an exam paper is stolen shortly before the exams suspicion falls on Elizabeth but she’s not the only one struggling to do well. The last storyline is also involved as the only reason Elizabeth finds the tree is she is looking for a quiet place to study.
Unfortunately, as with all the Anne Digby books, there’s a bit too much going on. The third storyline in particular feels rather crammed in and is resolved all in a rush at the end of the book. Even Elizabeth’s passion for the tree and its inhabitants is rushed – with one or two tales of her feeding squirrels and so on thrown in later in the book.
Too much yet also too little
Where these books fail is hard to pinpoint. On one hand I’ve said there’s too much going on, yet at the same time it often feels as if there’s not enough!
It’s a short book – 154 pages, small paperback pages with large text, and three storylines complete for space. There’s not much time, if any, for other elements such as meals, games, tricks or insights into any of the other children. There are only two school meetings described, the first having very little said at it. The only other element of note is William and Rita are to leave at the end of term and Julian carves them a bear each out of a bit of oak.
What we do get is Elizabeth experiencing events, with a commentary to go along with, then Elizabeth going off to reflect at some length over what has just happened (as well as other characters doing this), so it’s as if we see several things twice over.
For example, after discovering that Arabella is an excellent piano player and wants to play at the concert just to spite Elizabeth, Elizabeth spends three whole pages thinking about this – that’s almost 2% of the book. It’s even split into strange headings –
Envy. That Arabella could play the piano so well…
Realisation. Now she knew why Mr Lewis had chuckled to himself about Arabella…
Scorn. How could Arabella be so unkind about Mr Lewis?…
Everything also happens at a startling pace. This is not a new term, it’s right after the summer play of the previous book so we are thrown into the final three or four weeks of the term. That means Elizabeth has only two or three piano lessons before the concert, and only a few weeks to move from third bottom to nearer the top of the form, whereas Blyton’s school books generally took place over at least a whole term and weeks could pass between incidents. Even Mr Lewis deliberately leaves the choosing of the performers until the last minute – if he didn’t, they’d have been decided before this story began!
As a side note it seems laughable that none of the teachers mentioned exams or anything until this point in the school year, nor noted that Elizabeth had been so busy with the play that she had all but abandoned her studies and music practice. In fact Whyteleaf fails Elizabeth quite a bit as at no point does Miss Ranger discuss her plummet to the bottom of the form, offer her any advice or even notice that Elizabeth is in a panic about moving into the second form.
One thing that struck me as silly was suddenly having a special performer at the leavers’ concert – a total MacGuffin if I ever read one – serving only to create a pointless competition between Elizabeth and Arabella. The reasoning is weak (though continues the vaguery of how progression through a boarding school works) as Mr Lewis says that last year only two or three boys and girls were old enough to leave, but this year there’s a whole batch.
Secondly, when the headmistresses discover that Elizabeth is up a tree protesting it’s immediate cutting down their reaction is to tell her to stay up there so they can sort it out! They’re very lucky that due to a paperwork problem the tree is not cut down in the end, but they couldn’t possibly have known that before-hand.
So over-all that wasn’t a very positive review, but honestly, this book was better than the others. Elizabeth mostly behaved in an Elizabeth-ish way despite all the navel-gazing