The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place
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The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

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by Julie Gardner Berry
     
 

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There's a murderer on the loose—but that doesn't stop the girls of St. Etheldreda's from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce.
The students of St. Etheldreda's School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently

Overview

There's a murderer on the loose—but that doesn't stop the girls of St. Etheldreda's from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce.
The students of St. Etheldreda's School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong.

Julie Berry's The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a smart, hilarious Victorian romp, full of outrageous plot twists, mistaken identities, and mysterious happenings.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 07/14/2014
Readers with a penchant for dark humor will relish Berry’s (All the Truth That’s in Me) tongue-in-cheek murder mystery set in a late-19th-century British girls’ boarding school. The St. Etheldreda’s School for Young Ladies, run by stern headmistress Constance Plackett, may not be paradise for its residents, but the students get an unanticipated break from their dull routines when Plackett and her odious brother drop dead at the dinner table one spring evening, apparently poisoned. Knowing opportunity when they see it, the girls hatch a scheme to dispose of the bodies and run the school on their own. Unfortunately, a killer is on the loose, and the girls could be the next victims. The pupils’ attempts to convince the public that everything is normal at the school make for some hilarious scenes, and their efforts to find the murderer result in surprising encounters with suspicious (but often quite appealing) suspects. Romance blooms in unexpected places, and danger lurks around every corner in this delightfully farcical tale, full of twists and turns. Ages 10–14. Agent: Alyssa Eisner Henkin, Trident Media Group. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

“With a collection of interesting independence-seeking girls, a bit of mystery, and a smattering of romance, this will suit Anglophiles and boarding-school enthusiasts as well as those seeking a bit of sisterly literary companionship.” —BCCB

“Berry's prose is reminiscent of the dark comedy and melodrama of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" mysteries . . . This is a well-researched, clever, and deliciously dark comedy with an emphasis on female empowerment.” —School Library Journal

“Immensely entertaining, smart, and frothy.” —The Horn Book

“... beautifully written, with rich vocabulary, charming details, spunky dialogue, and plucky heroines . . . delightfully zany.” —VOYA

“*Romance blooms in unexpected places, and danger lurks around every corner in this delightfully farcical tale, full of twists and turns.” —Publisher's Weekly STARRED REVIEW

VOYA, August 2014 (Vol. 37, No. 3) - Suzanne Osman
Imagine being a student at a girls’ boarding school in 1800s England when suddenly, during the weekly Sunday dinner, the headmistress and her brother drop dead from veal poisoning. Interestingly enough, this alarming event does not cause sorrow, but merely stimulates a wave of curiosity as students wonder who could have perpetrated such a ghastly crime? In addition, if word gets out that Mrs. Plackett is dead, the students will all be sent home, so they all decide to cover up the two murders. This becomes most tricky as neighbors and other random visitors constantly stop by. Then, there is the dilemma of what to do about the party Mrs. Plackett is expected to attend. Therefore, until the students solve the identity of the headmistress’s killer, life will be comprised of concocting clever stories and lies, with one of the students actually impersonating the old lady, and the rest stalling and redirecting nosy visitors. This delightfully zany scenario embodies the premise of The Scandalous Sisterhood. While beautifully written with rich vocabulary, charming detail, spunky dialogue, and plucky heroines, this Victorian murder mystery farce tends to drag along as the feisty young girls devise madcap plans for how to conceal a double murder. For this reason, recommend it to patient readers who do not need constant white-knuckle suspense and can appreciate the gentle unfolding of a mostly sweet tale sprinkled with just a smattering of edginess and a few plot twists. Reviewer: Suzanne Osman; Ages 11 to 14.
Kirkus Reviews
2014-06-30
When an overbearing headmistress and her odious brother drop dead, seven Victorian schoolgirls decide to run their school without adult interference.It's an ordinary Sunday dinner at Saint Ethelreda's School for Young Ladies until Mrs. Plackett and Mr. Aldous Godding choke on their veal and fall over, dead as a pair of unpleasant doornails. All of the seven students at Saint Ethelreda's, from Dull Martha to Dour Elinor, are horrified at the notion of their inevitable separation. Once they tell the authorities about Mrs. Plackett's death, surely they will all be sent back home to their dreadful families and shunted off to far worse schools. All seems lost until Smooth Kitty asks the others, what if they just don't tell the authorities about their headmistress's untimely demise? What follows is classic farce, as the young ladies spend the rest of that evening desperately hiding the corpses and their headmistress's absence from an unprecedented stream of callers. Stout Alice is disguised as Mrs. Plackett, Disgraceful Mary Jane initiates the garden gravedigging, and Pocked Louise helpfully adopts a puppy. A third of the way through the novel, the breakneck shenanigans abruptly settle, becoming merely the backdrop of a fairly classic drawing-room mystery. The young ladies are charming and their problem-solving ingenious, though the epithets used to describe them—it is never "Roberta," always "Dear Roberta"—get old very quickly.Droll farce yields to intriguing mystery, leaving the seams between them showing. (Farce/mystery. 11-13)
School Library Journal
10/01/2014
Gr 6 Up—In this Victorian boarding school murder mystery, seven young women find themselves gloriously free from adult supervision when their judgmental, penny-pinching headmistress and her good-for-nothing brother die suddenly during dinner. Rather than alert the authorities and risk having the school shut down and all the students sent home, the girls decide to keep things under wraps and proceed as if the late headmistress and her brother were still alive. But first they'll have to bury the bodies in the garden without attracting the notice of busybody neighbors, potential suitors, a suspicious housekeeper, and a host of charmingly annoying villagers with a penchant for showing up at the worst possible moment. While juggling mounting debts and increasingly precarious fabrications in order to keep up their charade, the students also try to discover who poisoned the deceased—and why. Berry's prose is reminiscent of the dark comedy and melodrama of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" mysteries. Each girl at Saint Etheldreda's School is defined largely by an adjective that precedes her name: Dear Roberta, Disgraceful Mary Jane, Dull Martha, Stout Alice, Smooth Kitty, Pocked Louise, and Dour Elinor. The nicknames are illustrative of the insidious ways in which women and girls were pigeonholed and denigrated in the patriarchal society of 19th-century Great Britain, and over the course of the story, the characters prove that their supposed weaknesses are often the sources of great strength and ingenuity. That said, the device is used throughout the entirety of the book and will wear thin with some readers. The pacing slows midway, though kids will want to read on—if only to find out if the sisterhood winds up behind bars for all of their shenanigans. Overall, this is a well-researched, clever, and deliciously dark comedy with an emphasis on female empowerment.—Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781596439566
Publisher:
Roaring Brook Press
Publication date:
09/23/2014
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
606,507
Product dimensions:
8.40(w) x 5.80(h) x 1.30(d)
Lexile:
730L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place


By Julie Berry

Roaring Brook Press

Copyright © 2014 Julie Berry
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59643-956-6


CHAPTER 1

Each Sunday afternoon at Saint Etheldreda's School for Young Ladies on Prickwillow Road in Ely, Cambridgeshire, the seven enrolled young ladies were invited by custom to join Headmistress Constance Plackett while she entertained her younger brother, Mr. Aldous Godding, at the dinner table. 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. The girls had learned to be content with buttered bread and hot beans, Sundays upon end. Such self-denial would serve them well in their future callings as wives. This was Mr. Aldous Godding's firm belief, and his sister, the widow Mrs. Plackett, with years of matrimonial experience behind her, could only agree.

On one particular Sunday evening in May, midway through the meal, Mrs. Plackett sopped her plate with her bread, took a bite of it, and let the morsel fall to the floor, whilst her head lolled back upon her shoulders, and her eyes gazed blankly at the ceiling. She shuddered. She shook. She let out a choking cough, then fell silent.

"What's the matter, Connie?" her brother demanded between mouthfuls. "Speak up, woman. It isn't decent goggling about like that. Pass the pepper, Missy." This he addressed to Disgraceful Mary Jane, who sat nearest to him, but he neither knew her name nor the source of her disgrace. All the young ladies were "Missy" to him.

Disgraceful Mary Jane passed the pepper. Mr. Godding used it liberally, ate a bite of veal, laid down his knife and fork, touched his beard with his napkin, and rose from his seat. He made his way around the table to where his sister sat, raised his arm to thump her back, then choked, clutched his throat, fell forward, and landed on the floor with a thud that reverberated up the legs of the chairs upon which the seven young ladies sat.

"Dead, I imagine," Dour Elinor observed.

Smooth Kitty slipped from her chair and went softly to the headmistress's side. She plucked the spectacles off Dull Martha's nose, polished them on her sleeve, then held them in front of Mrs. Plackett's limp mouth. She watched and listened closely. The other girls hung poised for the verdict, their forks frozen in mid-bite.

Smooth Kitty, satisfied that no breath had fogged the glasses, nodded and placed them back on Dull Martha's nose. "Dead as a kipper," she pronounced.

"Eugh," Dull Martha sputtered. "You made a dead person breathe on my glasses!"

Pocked Louise opened her mouth to correct Dull Martha, but Smooth Kitty shook her head slightly. Pocked Louise, the youngest of the girls, was accustomed to her older schoolmates bossing her. She kept still.

Dear Roberta covered her face with her hands. "But this is awful! Hadn't we ought to call Doctor Snelling?"

"Bit late for that," Dour Elinor responded. "Louise. Check the other one."

Pocked Louise, the resident scientist, approached the fallen form of Mr. Aldous Godding cautiously. As his face was mashed against the floor, it became clear to her that she must touch him in order to turn him over, a thought which wrinkled her pox-scarred nose into a fright of disgust.

"Go on," Dour Elinor urged. "He won't bite."

"But he's a man," Pocked Louise protested. "And such a greasy one."

"Don't be a ninny. Of course he's a man," snorted Disgraceful Mary Jane. "Believe me, there are many far better."

"Think of him as a specimen in a jar," Smooth Kitty said, "specially killed for the purpose of examination."

Dear Roberta dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. "Killed?" she squeaked. "Did you say killed?"

Pocked Louise by this point had managed to upturn her specimen and proclaim him dead. The gush of blood from his broken nose spread a ghastly crimson all over his already unpleasant face, and threatened to eternally stain the Persian rug. The girls gathered round in a circle, leaning over the body.

"Killed," Dour Elinor said. "Murdered." She savored the R's in her pronunciation: murrrrderrrred.

"Oh. Oh my," Dear Roberta began to gasp. "A murder. Oh dear. I think I shall faint." She fluttered her hand before her face.

"Not now, Roberta, there's a dear," interjected Mary Jane. "Why bother swooning when there are no young men about to see you do it?"

"Balderdash," Pocked Louise snorted. "If I wanted to faint, which I wouldn't, I'd go right ahead and do it. I wouldn't give tuppence for whether or not there were males present."

"Sturdy stuff, Louise," said Stout Alice. "To thine own self be true. Now, if we can return to the matter at hand ..."

"At foot, you mean," Dull Martha said, glancing at the corpse on the carpet.

"Something has killed Mrs. Plackett and Mr. Godding." Stout Alice dabbed at the blood spot on the rug with her napkin. "But it may have been a mere piece of meat lodged in the throat. We mustn't run away with ourselves with this talk of murder."

"The odds of both of them accidentally choking within seconds of each other seem infinitesimally small," sniffed Pocked Louise. "The facts suggest poison, which clearly points to murder. Someone murdered them."

An angelic smile spread across Smooth Kitty's pretty face. "Ah," she said, "but the question is, who?"

Silence hung over the dining room. The glass-domed clock on the mantel ticked. Flowered chintz curtains swam in the sweet May breeze. Mrs. Constance Plackett sat forever straight and slack-jawed in her dining chair as seven young ladies each looked at the others as though seeing them for the first time.

"Surely it couldn't have been one of us," Dear Roberta sniffled.

"Why not?" said Disgraceful Mary Jane. "I say hurrah if it was one of us. Finally someone showed some good sense and got rid of those two."

Dear Roberta's eyes filled with tears. "But that would be dreadful! How could we go on living here, wondering which one of us was a poisoner?"

"Grab his feet, won't you, dear?" Stout Alice addressed Dull Martha, and bent to lace her arms underneath Mr. Godding's, which seemed now to be made of cement. Dull Martha complied, and the other young ladies pitched in, shifting and sharing the weight as best they could, taking special care to keep blood off their dresses. Together they hoisted their dead headmistress's dead brother up into the air.

"Now what do we do with him?" asked Disgraceful Mary Jane. "Dump him on the sofa until the constables arrive? I suppose we'd better send someone to fetch them." This thought seemed to please her. "Say, I'll go. There's a new constable up from London who's ever so tall, with such lovely square shoulders, and the most adorable little gap between his front teeth. I'll just get my new shawl ..."

"Hold a moment," Smooth Kitty said. "Before we run off flirting with constables and calling physicians, I say we think carefully. Dear Roberta has asked a very sensible question."

Dear Roberta blinked. "I have?"

Stout Alice shifted Mr. Godding's torso uncomfortably. "Do you mind if we have our little chat after we've put Mr. Godding down somewhere?"

"Oh, just drop him there where he is," said Smooth Kitty. "He's beyond help now."

For the second time in minutes, Mr. Godding crashed to the floor.

"Bother," Stout Alice said. "Now we'll just have to hoist him up again."

"As I was saying," Smooth Kitty began, then paused. "Oh! Check his pockets, will you, Louise?"

"Why?"

Kitty shrugged. "If he's got any money, we'll have better use for it than he will."

"Like the Achaeans in the Trojan war," murmured Dour Elinor, with a strange light in her eyes, "stripping armor off the bodies of their fallen enemies."

Smooth Kitty coughed. "Yes. Well. Something like that."

"I still don't see why I have to do all the dirty work," grumbled Pocked Louise.

"Because you're the youngest, and we say so," said Disgraceful Mary Jane, earning a kick in the heel from Stout Alice.

"Because you're so thorough, dear," said Smooth Kitty.

Pocked Louise grimaced as she reached two fingers gingerly into each of Mr. Godding's trouser pockets. Her search yielded a cigar, a snuffbox, a coin, a key, and a folded bit of scribbled paper.

"Is it a note?" asked Alice, peering at the scrap. "Does it mean something?"

Louise frowned. "More like an inkblot," she said. "Perhaps a triangle. Nothing of interest here." She dropped the items on a table.

"You don't call a sovereign a thing of interest?" Smooth Kitty, ever one for figures and ledgers, nabbed the coin, then reported on their headmistress's pockets. "Mrs. Plackett has a sovereign, a few shillings and pence, a handkerchief, and mint pastilles."

"Would to heaven she'd used the pastilles more often," said Disgraceful Mary Jane.

"Mary Jane!" Dear Roberta cried. "To speak so of the departed!"

"Well, she had foul breath, dead or alive," Mary Jane replied. "Her odors won't improve from here on out."

Smooth Kitty gathered what change they'd found in both sets of pockets and slipped it into her own. Then she gathered the other small items and dropped them into a small crockery urn on the sideboard.

"As I was saying." Kitty resumed her original query with a touch of exasperation in her voice. "What Roberta so wisely asked, several moments ago, was, 'How shall we go on living here?' She has a point. Once we notify constables and so forth, we'll all be sent home."

"Of course we'll be sent home," Dear Roberta said. "It's the only logical thing." She sighed. "I suppose I must learn to love Stepmother somehow. It was so much easier here when I didn't have to look at her. It made it much easier to pray for her, as the vicar said we must do for all our enemies."

"But why, Roberta dear?" Dull Martha said. "Why should you go home to your nasty stepmother? Can't we stay here, and we'll all just go on like we do?"

"They won't let us," Pocked Louise protested.

"Who's they?" Dull Martha asked.

"Coroners," Dour Elinor intoned. "Undertakers. Police. School overseers. All the people who'll descend upon us like a flock of ravens once it's known that these two are dead."

"You sound almost glad of their coming, Elinor," Smooth Kitty observed.

"Only the undertakers," Elinor admitted. "I've always wanted to witness an embalming."

"Bother and more bother." Disgraceful Mary Jane flopped back into her chair at the dinner table. "With those two nuisances gone, we might actually have had some fun. This whole place is suddenly much more interesting. And now we shall have to leave it."

"And each other," Pocked Louise added.

Stout Alice put an arm around Pocked Louise. Louise rested her head on Alice's shoulder.

"I don't want to go home, either," Dull Martha said. "My little brothers torment me so. They pull my hair and stick it in ink, and paste my piano pages together."

"Mother won't let me out of her sight for a minute," Disgraceful Mary Jane said. "She swears I'll elope if she leaves me unguarded for half an hour. I ask you, have you ever heard such rubbish?" She grinned. "Ten minutes and a willing man are all I'd need."

"You've never had a shortage of willing men," Smooth Kitty said.

"Correct, but under Mother's watch, there's an absolute dearth of minutes."

Stout Alice was uninterested in Mary Jane's chances for hasty marriage. "If I go home, all I shall hear from Grandmamma is how fat I am compared to Cousin Isabelle," she said. "She should talk. It takes two maids to tie Grandmamma's corsets, but that doesn't stop her from goading me."

Dour Elinor stared at the black coals on the grate. "My mother will tell me all day long that a young lady should radiate sweetness and good cheer." She spoke the words the way others might pronounce maggots and black rot.

Smooth Kitty clucked a sympathetic tongue for poor Elinor.

"I suppose they'll find other schools for us eventually," Pocked Louise said. "New mistresses, new nasty girls to make us miserable."

"We have all gotten along so beautifully here." Dear Roberta sighed. "It's something of a miracle, really. We aren't simply boarding-school mates. We're like a family."

"We're better than family," Disgraceful Mary Jane corrected. "Families are full of aunts and brothers and parents. We're sisters."

"I always wished for a sister," Dull Martha said.

"Me, too," said Dear Roberta.

"Not me," Dour Elinor confessed. "But I don't mind your company."

Pocked Louise sat up. "None of us here has a sister at home, have we?" she said slowly. "I never realized that before. Not a single one of us."

"That's why I hate to leave." Dear Roberta had begun to cry. "We have our own sisterhood."

Elinor handed Roberta a black silk handkerchief.

"You want to know what I say?" Smooth Kitty asked no one in particular. "I say we don't tell these ... ravens and what-do-you-call-ems ... coroners. Let's not tell anyone."

They stared at each other. Smoldering coal settled in the fireplace, sending up low sparks. Each girl was alone, for a moment, with her private amazement. Smooth Kitty counted her heartbeats as she waited for their responses.

"But the bodies will smell," Dull Martha said at length. "Sooner or later they're bound to."

Disgraceful Mary Jane, whose green eyes had lit up wonderfully at Smooth Kitty's suggestion, gave Dull Martha a little rub on the back. "No, darling, they won't," she said. "We'll bury them. Right in the vegetable beds."

"They'll make a lovely compost," Pocked Louise added. "Perhaps not so much this season. But next season the marrows and squashes will burst with juicy goodness." She scratched her nose thoughtfully. "We'll just have to be careful this fall when we go digging for potatoes."

Smooth Kitty's eyes darted from young lady to young lady, watching to see how well her idea had taken hold. She didn't dare congratulate herself yet. She must be sure where they stood.

"Never mind potatoes. There'll be a scandal," she said. "An investigation. Each one of us could be under a cloud of suspicion for the rest of our lives."

"A black spot," Dour Elinor intoned. "A blemish upon our maiden purity."

"Oh, no, surely not," Disgraceful Mary Jane replied. "Not for such a trifling thing as neglecting to mention the death of a headmistress and her nasty brother. No one could really be upset over that. It takes much more fun to leave a blemish upon one's maiden purity."

"They'll think one of us murdered them," Pocked Louise warned.

Smooth Kitty slipped an arm through Louise's elbow. "What I'd like to know, love, is whether or not one of us actually did."

CHAPTER 2

Evening breezes began to blow chill through the chintz curtains. The white roses in the dining room wallpaper, which in fact never did stay quite white, took on a reddish hue from the setting sun outside, as did Mrs. Plackett's ever-pallid complexion. In fact, that rigid and upright lady (who, to be frank, had never been more rigid nor more upright than at this moment) looked positively mauve, as though reflecting the sunny warmth of a summer afternoon. The rosy sunset made even the mud of Farmer Butts's vast acres of meadowland blaze with heavenly glory as far as the eye could see out the western picture window. His sheep radiated like bright angels. High above and far beyond the Butts farm, Ely Cathedral pressed its two great towers up into the violet sky. The dining room would be rosy for only a few minutes more, and then they'd need to light the lamps, so Stout Alice went down into the kitchen and returned with the kerosene and matches.

"Let's all sit in the parlor and make our plans," Smooth Kitty said.

"Let's all sit in the parlor and drink Mrs. Plackett's medicinal wine, and eat her tinned biscuits," was Disgraceful Mary Jane's reply.

Smooth Kitty opened her mouth as if to reply, then paused. It hit her then, as it had hit all of them, that there was really and truly nothing barring them from the biscuits or the wine, nor from any other hidden treasure at Saint Etheldreda's School.

There was a general stampede to Mrs. Plackett's bedroom where, it was well known, the former headmistress kept her medicinal wine and a supply of glasses hidden in a small cupboard next to her bed.

"The bottles are all empty!" Pocked Louise cried. "Worse luck."

"But not the tins of biscuits," Stout Alice sang from the back of the closet, from which she pulled two whole boxes full of Scottish shortbread, and one of Parkinson's Butterscotch.

"We can at least drink the fancy tea with these," Smooth Kitty said. "Come on."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry. Copyright © 2014 Julie Berry. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Julie Berry has never solved a murder or attended boarding school. Her manners are decidedly improper. But she is part of a scandalous sisterhood. She's the youngest of seven children, six of whom are girls, and if they'd ever had a chance to conceal a corpse and run a school, they'd have jumped on it. Today she lives in eastern Massachusetts with her husband and their four sons and two cats.

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The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a voracious teen reader, and i do not often find a book as good as this. I was hesitant to read this at first, as I did not like Julie Berry's "The amaranth Enchantment". However, i was pleasantly surprised. I loved that this book portrayed teenagers, yet still remained innocent with the naive flirting that i believe belongs in books. I really enjoyed the setting and story line, and of course the plethora of characters from which to choose a favorite (which i was never able to do). This mystery kept me guessing in a way that i read this book in two days. Really Good overall!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It tells the story of 6 maidens who try to hide the murder of their headmisstress and her brother. This book has many adventures including Alice, who is one of the main characters, impersonate Mrs. Plakett at a church social, fire the houskeeper Amanda Barnes, and fool a doctor. All in all, this was a very good book and i highly reccommend it.