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Review - The Académie

Wednesday, June 13, 2012
The Académie
by Susanne Dunlap

Publication: February 28, 2012 (Hardback)
Pages: 368
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Buy it: Amazon | KindleB&N | Book Depository

Eliza Monroe-daughter of the future president of the United States-is devastated when her mother decides to send her to boarding school outside of Paris. But the young American teen is quickly reconciled to the idea when-ooh, la-la!-she discovers who her fellow pupils will be: Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of Josephine Bonaparte; and Caroline Bonaparte, youngest sister of the famous French general. It doesn't take long for Eliza to figure out that the two French girls are mortal enemies-and that she's about to get caught in the middle of their schemes.

Loosely drawn from history, Eliza Monroe's imagined coming of age provides a scintillating glimpse into the lives, loves, and hopes of three young women during one of the most volatile periods in French history.

The Académie starts with a good historical premise. Three girls, all related to powerful historical figures, thrown together at a school for young women? It makes you wonder what will happen, especially as the events of the novel take place soon after the French Revolution and right around the time that Napoleon Bonaparte plotted to overthrow the Directoire. Big changes are brewing in France at the same time that the girls play a game of politics with one another, each girl acting with her best interests in mind and guessing at the other girls' motives. It was interesting seeing events take place through the eyes of three very different girls: Eliza and Hortense in addition to Madeleine, the daughter of an actress who will get entangled in the politics of the aristocrats. This has promising potential; however, the novel's set up makes it hard to get into the plot.

The first-person narrative as told through three different perspective makes it hard to follow events clearly and even more so to relate to the characters. Each girl has her own thoughts and observations, and they see the same people in different lights. They also believe that they know what's best for other characters and will act for other people's "best interests" when their actions really end up hurting them. Just when I thought I had formed my opinion on a character, the narrative would switch to another girl and I would see the aforementioned character in another light. Because the narrative switches perspectives so often, I didn't get to know the girls as well as I would have liked, and sometimes the narrative would replay an event from another person's perspective, which felt redundant despite the new angle the present narrator offered.

I was very much interested in the politics of the aristocratic world. Initially, Hortense and Caroline exihibit much distaste for one another, something that is no big secret; yet, they must act in a certain manner with each other in public. The novel could have easily explored much more of the intricacies of the nobility. However, rather than focusing on the intrigue and politics of the girls' worlds, the story spends much of its time exploring the girls' romantic interests. The promise of romance is the girls' primary motivation factor. Eliza is interested in Hortense's brother, who loves the actress Madeleine. At the same time, Hortense develops feelings for the musician Michel, and Caroline wishes to marry the general Murat. Love drives the girls to do lose reason and do silly things like dress up as soldiers to go to where they know something big will happen, but not what exactly.

The plot is slow to unfold. A quarter into the novel, I considered dropping it because it didn't seem like anything was going to happen, though I finally finished the book because I read the last couple pages and wanted to see what happened in between. Not much ended ended up happening. As I mentioned earlier, much of the book is about the girls falling in love, with each girl finding a different resolution. There is joy, there is resignation, and there is tragedy. There is a fair amount of fiction in this novel, but there is also realness in the characters' humanity. While this is far from the best historical fiction that I've read, it is rather light-hearted for the topic that it addresses and may interest readers looking for a light summer read with romance and scandal but nothing a parent wouldn't let a middle-grade student read.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher. No payment was received in return for a review. The receipt of the book had no influence on the opinions expressed in my review.
7 comments on "Review - The Académie"
  1. Great review! Yeah, I've heard from most that while this is a very intriguing premise, it's slow and not particularly captivating, since you never really get involved with any of the girls. It's a shame, because this one could've been fantastic.

    1. Yeah, it had a lot of potential, but it ended up not being able to capture my interest.

  2. Caroline was actually my favorite with her strong personality. I think I would have enjoyed the story more if Caroline and Hortense had alternated narratives and it had focused more on the political side instead of their lame romances. Of course that would have been a very different story...

    1. I started off hating Caroline and then loving her at the end. She was my favorite too overall. I agree that a political focus would have been more interesting.

  3. I'm not too sure about slow-paced books, not unless they have a lyrical prose to them but, nevertheless, I shall give this one a go.

    How do you find out about so many books? I've never even heard of this one before. :)

    1. I find out about books by checking out publisher's book catalogues :)

  4. I didn't really like this book either, and I absolutely despise the name Hortense, haha.


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