The Education of Bet by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
In 1800 England, Bet is the illegitimate daughter of a maid in the Gardner house. Bet is adopted by a rich man named Paul Gardner after her mother and most of the Gardner household die of typhoid. Paul also adopts Will Gardner his nephew. Will and Bet grow up as brother and sister, however Bet often feels she is treated somewhere between a servant and a beloved pet. Will wants to join the army while Bet wants to be educated. So they switch places, while Will is in the army Bet attends an all boys academy impersonating Will. At first Bet is excited about the prospect of having a real education, but she soon finds out that being a boy involves following unspoken rules and a lot more violence than she anticipated. To make matters more complicated Bet begins to fall in love with her aloof, but beautiful roommate James.
What I liked most about this story is that it doesn’t sugarcoat life in that time period. Bet experiences the bullying , violence, and boyhood camaraderie that would occur in a boarding school during that time. You fall in love with her character because she gets beat up and makes mistakes but keeps on going, because the improvement of her life is so important. In addition, the book highlights the educational divide between the sexes during that time. Women were not seen as equals so they were not educated like men. Therefore, the love story between Bet and James (her roommate) is modern in its concept. James falls in love with Bet as an intellectual equal, which is evident when she reaches top of the class and surpasses him. Even if Bet were not poor and illegitimate she still would’ve had a slim chance in having any real education. The divide between sex and education is apparent in the relationship between the Headmaster and his wife, who roots for Bet because she wishes she were educated like her husband. Although the general plotline has some Dickenson plot twists, I found the ending to be a bit abrupt. We don’t find out if Bet and James further their budding love, or what happens to Will after he’s injured in the war. Will we find this out in a sequel?