A Great and Terrible Beauty

a great and terrible beauty]

Title: A Great and Terrible Beauty [sound recording]

Author: Libba Bray

Performer: Josephine Bailey

ISBN: 1400086213

Publisher: Random House/Listening Library

Copyright Date: 2004

Format: Spoken CD

Plot Summary:

Gemma Doyle has had a somewhat unusual upbringing. Raised in India by British parents, Gemma longs to enter the London social scene. When her request is denied yet again on her sixteenth birthday, she storms away leaving her mother on a social call. Gemma gets terribly lost and is accosted with a vision of her mother being murdered by a malevolent creature. Gemma is traumatized and feels great guilt over how she left things with her mother.

After her mother’s death, Gemma is transported to London to attend an elite boarding school for young girls. Gemma soon attracts the attention of several young ladies, and after several tiffs, they eventually fall into an uneasy friendship. The bond between the girls is strengthened when Gemma realizes she can enter other realms and take her friends with her. Life in the other realms seems perfect, but the same creature that murdered Gemma’s mother lurks in the shadows. Gemma struggles to control her new found powers and solve the mystery behind the fiery deaths that occurred at her boarding school some years earlier.

Critical Evaluation:

One of the elements I really enjoyed about this book is that all the characters are notably flawed. The main protagonist, Gemma, is spoiled, bratty, and heavily influenced by her peers. Felicity is a selfish bully, Pippa is a vain, insensitive girl, and Anne has terrible self-esteem issues. The four of them are unlikely friends, but their bond is built over their mutual discontent with life and their shared experiences traveling to another realm. The character flaws make them seem real and relatable, and I found myself liking them despite their occasional cruelness.

I was a bit surprised by some of the content of this novel. I would recommend this book to slightly older teens, as there is rather erotic content sprinkled throughout the story. It is not particularly graphic, so I imagine most teens can handle it, but for those who are more sensitive or easily embarrassed be forewarned! I say this because I was listening to the book on tape and I abruptly had to change the station because my much younger sister was sitting in the car. The narrator was providing a rather vivid depiction of an erotic dream and I did not think this was appropriate for her to hear.

Reader’s Annotation: Gemma and her friends have created a new order to replace the one of legend. They seek control of a dangerous magic, only it may end up controlling them.

About the Author:

Libba Bray is the New York Times bestselling author of The Gemma Doyle trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, The Sweet Far Thing); the Michael L. Printz Award-winning Going Bovine; Beauty Queens, an L.A. Times Book Prize finalist; and The Diviners series. She is originally from Texas but makes her home in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband, son, and two sociopathic cats.”

Genre: Young adult, Fantasy

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Describe Gemma’s clever revenge for being locked in the church while attempting to complete a dare.
  • Describe Gemma’s trip to another realm.

Reading Level/Interest Age: Grades 9-12, Ages 15-18

Challenge Issues: strong sensuality, erotic dreams, violence,

Defense File:

Violence in the Media: A Joint Statement: 2000-2001 CD #19.3

Chapter 5 of Youth, Pornography, and the Internet (2002)

From the Library Bill of Rights: “II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”


Justification of Selection: This is a very well written book by a popular author.


Bray, L. (n.d.). About Libba. Libba Bray. Retrieved from http://libbabray.com/about-libba

A Great and Terrible Beauty

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