The Following Girls – Louise Levene

This book was received through the kind offices of Bloomsbury India in exchange of an honest review

 The Following Girls does not refer to girls who follow someone or something. It is instead a very schoolmarmish quote often heard in school classrooms and assemblies, eg – ‘Will the following girls please step out of line?’ or ‘The following girls have been selected for the school play’ and so on.

This book is a story about a particular girl’s life in an English girls school. Malory towers it is not. For starters it is not residential and for another the students and teachers seem to exist in a perpetual state of war. Our protagonist is called Amanda Baker, aka Baker, and is friends with 3 other girls also named Amanda. The four Mandies are pretty notorious in school and a constant source of pain to their teachers who have been dying to find a reason to expel at least one of them to make an example.

Baker’s mother left her with her father when she was but 5 years old and she grew up with him and his new wife. Mr. Baker is utterly conventional and incapable of looking at his daughter without seeing his first wife. He is so caught up in the wrongs that were done to him that he deciphers every action of his daughter as a deliberate attempt to hurt him. At times I felt sad for him, so caught up in conventionality, so afraid of what people might think and at times so angry for failing to love this child of his.

Amanda is an intelligent girl and quite good at her studies. She doesn’t commit any great mistakes and I felt great sympathy for her when she is caught wearing the wrong shoes for gym and is terrified that the teachers will inform her father. I mean that is such a pathetic thing to call parents for and an even more pathetic thing for the child to be scared about it. If someone had called my Dad that I was wearing the wrong shoes in school, he would have laughed it off like he did every time the teachers told him that I talked too much in every single school and every single parent-teacher meet he ever went to. He was compensated for that 13 years later when his son started school and every teacher in every school told him he was too quiet.

The actual plot summarized in the blurb only occurs towards the very end. The first three quarters of the story is spent in describing the various characters in the book right from the students to the teachers. It isn’t boring or tedious but one does wonder when the ‘terrible’ event mentioned in the blurb will occur.

It is a sweet book, even if I did not understand the tendency of the Mandies to cause unnecessary disruptions in class by hiding  the duster or changing schedules on walls. It is like second nature for them to do so and implies a degree of individuality and freedom in school that is never possible in an Indian school. Reprimands seem to have little or no effect on any of them. The English school slang was a little difficult at times to understand but one gets its fairly easily in the end. Its a story for girls and about girls and, although very different from Enid Blyton, is a nice read. If you have ever studied in an all Girls school, this will revive some pretty nostalgic memories for you.


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