I am finally subjecting myself to the penultimate Naughtiest Girl continuation book. I know it will be bad but the question is, how bad?
I’m already rolling my eyes just reading the blurb.
Elizabeth is furious when a girl new to the sixth form becomes head girl over her friend Emma.
She knows the new head girl, Kerry, is a nasty piece of work – but how can she prove it? Kerry is cleverer than Elizabeth thinks, and somehow she just manages to make the naughtiest girl look like a troublemaker.
I have a few issues with this.
Firstly, would Whyteleafe really make a new pupil head of the school? I think not. The headmistresses and other teachers are all very sensible and I’ve no doubt that they’ve always had pupils in mind to ascend to the positions of head girl and boy for when William and Rita moved on.
Secondly, whether it’s purely based on the teachers or the children get a vote too, a candidate for head girl would be under such scrutiny that I’m sure a nasty piece of work would not be chosen. Yes in the past Elizabeth has proven Robert to be a bully when nobody but his victims knew that, but that’s quite different to someone being chosen as head girl.
Thirdly, I have no recollection of Elizabeth’s friend Emma from any of the previous books so their friendship must have been minimal at best.
Fourthly, surely Elizabeth should – as she is a fair and moral person – be outraged that a nasty piece of work has been chosen as head girl regardless of who else was running, yet the blurb puts it Elizabeth is primarily concerned that Kerry beat Emma!
Before the start of term
In a string of coincidences (rarely the best way to start a book) Elizabeth arrives at the station more than half hour early, as have Joan and Julian. Julian just so happens to have seen a sign at the theatre next door saying that a rising young actress will be visiting to sign autographs beginning in just a moment.
Elizabeth and Joan have seen her latest film and are desperate to meet her, so persuade Mr Allen to let them go over, as long as they are back by in time for the train.
However Kerry Dane arrives rather late and so does not sign any autographs, she merely says a few words then disappears, obviously planning to leave via a rear exit.
Elizabeth, being impetuous decides to try to intercept Kerry around the back of the theatre. Before she gets that far, though, she accidentally runs into Kerry who is disposing of the flowers she was just given. The meeting is not what Elizabeth had hoped for, however, as Kerry calls her a pest, knocks her autograph book into the mud, says something else rude to her and then gets in her car.
The train journey and beyond
Most of the train journey is spent discussing who will be the new head girl and boy. Now that Elizabeth and Julian (and presumably most of her class) are moving up to join Joan in the second form they can now vote in the elections for head girl and boy.
Everyone agrees that a sixth former called Thomas would be ideal, and Elizabeth suggests her ‘friend’ Emma, with most of her friends agreeing though they think that Emma is a little bit quiet.
Elizabeth however is absolutely set on Emma and is convinced she will be perfect. She goes on an on about Emma and Thomas, in speech and in thought, for the next five or six chapters in fact, as well as the book showing us how nice Emma is. Jenny suggests that Nora might do well, but most others say no Nora isn’t right. Poor Nora gets a total character assassination in fact, being branded too bossy and quite wrong for the role. And of course there are no other possibilities amongst the monitors or other senior girls so Elizabeth gets bizarrely emotionally invested in having Emma as head.
A surprising lack of surprise
And here lies the fifth problem with the blurb when it names the new head girl as Kerry. Added to that, the illustration showing the actress at the theatre in a Whyteleafe uniform (which is contradicted in the text when later Elizabeth is baffled to see the famous Kerry in a Whyteleafe uniform) completely ruins what could have been a bit of a surprise when Kerry arrives in the dining hall.
The whole thing makes no sense, though. If you were catching a train to a new school for the first time would you really a) plan a ‘surprise’ (I think they mean last-minute) visit to a theatre even if it is next door, b) turn up late for the theatre and all but ignore the fans, c) waste time throwing your flowers away instead of just leaving them in the car d) get driven all the way next door to the train station and yet have to have the train stop after it’s just started moving to let you on e) get a taxi to the school from the station while the other children get on a coach?
Elizabeth is late to lunch as she hasn’t heard the first bell, and arrives to a general sense that something big is going on. Julian tells her she’s in for a surprise, but Patrick reminds them that the teachers have been telling everyone to act normal and not make a fuss.
Then Kerry – who claims to not want a fuss but has clearly done everything she can to make a big entrance – walks in. And Elizabeth is somehow dumb enough to not understand why she’s there and wearing school uniform.
A new head girl? Not yet
Despite the main premise of the book supposedly being about Kerry being given the head girl role it doesn’t happen until page 72 that it actually happens, and the book is only 123 pages long.
The chapters before are first concerned with Elizabeth trying to bide her time in revealing Kerry’s true nature and them pondering why Kerry has come to the school, and then about the ‘race’ to head girl.
Initially it is only Emma’s name down, but then Kerry persuades Nora to run. Seems odd but Julian and I agree that it’s a vote-splitting attempt. Nora has become a silly affected girl who is swayed by Kerry’s star qualities but we barely see any of her in the book, just other people talking about her. Then at the last minute Kerry puts her own name down, though she claims it’s only because everyone begged her to and she goes around telling everyone to still vote for Nora. This is all a bit complex for high schoolers and could so easily have backfired.
Elizabeth and her friends then hold a cringe-worthy parade every day with banners and posters, playing music and shouting ‘vote for Emma’. It’s cringe-worthy as this clearly isn’t how the process normally goes and they don’t actually do anything to increase Emma’s credibility as head girl other than to beg people to vote for her. I didn’t expect political rhetoric but they could perhaps have advertised Emma’s positive qualities that would have made her a good head?
Head girl Kerry
Finally we get to the main plot of having an unsuitable head girl, and boy does she prove herself useless immediately. I had thought she would have become head girl much earlier, giving her the opportunity to present a perfect head girl front while abusing her power behind the scenes only to be caught out later.
However what she does is give a speech and hog the limelight and then ask Thomas (the new head boy) if she could be excused from putting all her money in the box as she’s head girl. So straight away he knows that she doesn’t get the Whyteleafe way of working and is not impressed by her.
Elizabeth, Joan and Julian walk out of the meeting (a serious sin at Whyteleafe) which strikes me as unlikely. Joan is a monitor and had to walk off the platform to do it, and she’s pretty law-abiding and quiet. Julian, yes, I can see him with his devil-may-care attitude doing it, and Elizabeth possibly depending on the situation. If Kerry had tried to tell her off I could see her walking out, but as at that point she was waiting for the nominations for monitor to go in, and expecting to be made monitor, walking out seems a step too far for even the Bold Bad Girl.
Kerry takes delight in making sure that Elizabeth and Joan cannot be monitors after that, and revels in banging her gavel and generally being in charge.
The downfall of Kerry
Kerry does not last long as head girl, as she is brought down by Elizabeth surprisingly easily on pages 115-117.
It all plays out quite similarly to when she accused Robert of being a bully in an earlier book. She accuses Kerry of taking chocolate for a fund-raising stall from one of the juniors, but he is too afraid to stand up in the meeting and tell the truth so Elizabeth is disbelieved.
I was expecting a war to start between the girls then but no, Elizabeth goes off and finds the chocolate wrappers, comes back ten minutes later, and it’s all over for Kerry as she launches a tirade admitting what she did, calling the school stupid and the chocolate not even that good.
She doesn’t even get to reform as she leaves the school soon after (as she is of age) to begin a full-time acting career.
I have a hard time working out when the books are supposed to be set.
There is some old-fashioned language as used in the original books but the rest is fairly neutral. There’s nothing glaringly modern, but the train isn’t described as a stream train, there’s no gramophones or maids, and the money is of course decimalised, and handed out at a level that would only have seemed reasonable in the 80s or 90s if then.
The original books were published in the early 1940s, but several references date the books to occurring in the early 1960s at the earliest.
For example carrier bags, which weren’t created until 1959 – before then people used paper bags, fabric or string bags, or often just wrapped things in paper. The theatre shows film stills in colour, and although colour films began in the early 1900s (first hand-tinted) it was much more expensive and therefore it didn’t fully take off until the late 1950s.
Likewise popcorn, although introduces to cinema concession stands shortly before WWII didn’t become widely available in shops until the late 1950s.
This does follow on from the previous book, with William and Rita leaving and needing to be replaced. It’s the first book in the second for for Elizabeth which must be a record in a Blyton series – 8 books in a single form!
Table tennis is a sub plot in the book, with Elizabeth hoping to be chosen for the team. I have no recollection of table tennis ever being a thing at Whyteleafe before now.
There is a nice reference to the limit of items allowed on the chest of drawers, with second formers being allowed more than the first formers.
The monitors sit behind the head boy and girl, which I think they have done before, though in another Anne Digby book they sit six on each side, and in the original books they sit in front.
Elizabeth, Joan, Julian, Arabella and Martin all behave more or less as you would expect, while Jenny, Nora and Kathleen could be absolutely anyone. None of them show any particular traits that you would recognise from the original books.
The school now as a telephone room with a coin-in-the-slot payphone. This is inconsistent with the original books where Julian is allowed to use a telephone in the hall to speak to his father. Now, though, second formers and above are allowed a telephone call from their family every Sunday and can make calls out if it is important. You’d think that homesick first formers would benefit just as much from a weekly call, but obviously that would contradict the early books even more hence the arbitrary rule.
The votes read out for the head girls amount to 98 in total, suggesting there are around 20 children per form, though it’s possible that not everyone voted and therefore the numbers could be a little higher. That seems reasonable for a school like Whyteleafe.
So, yes, over all an extremely disappointing book that did not live up to the blurb. We could have had an interesting story about Elizabeth trying to catch out Kerry over a prolonged period of time and finally being successful, instead we got a ton of ‘Oh I do hope Emma becomes head girl, she’s so wonderful’, and then a rushed chapter where Elizabeth makes an accusation, it fails, but then she proves it all of ten minutes later.