**Spoilers/content warnings ahead: This review will have spoiler-y things in it regarding The Gilded GIrl so if you are not the type who enjoys spoilers of any kind in your reviews please seek a review of this title from someone else.**
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Hi everyone! I’m excited to be back with another review! Since I’m still new around here I’m going to remind everyone at the beginning of my posts that my reviews are not rehashes of the blurb/plot. I’ll always give you the cover and official blurb (duh) but I’m not a fan of reviews that summarize the blurb in their own words or basically go through every plot point in their own words. Not my style. Instead of from me you get why I liked the book, what resonated, what didn’t, what made me cry, feel the big feels (or didn’t), and what had meaning for me and why. I will also often share spoilers/spoiler-y things and will put content/spoiler warnings at the top for those that do not wish to venture into spoils land. Here we go!
The Gilded Girl by Alyssa Colman
Heartfelt, fast-paced, and utterly absorbing, The Gilded Girl is Alyssa Colman’s sparkling debut novel about determination, spirit, and the magic of friendship.
Any child can spark magic, but only the elite are allowed to kindle it. Those denied access to the secrets of the kindling ritual will see their magic snuffed out before their thirteenth birthday.
Miss Posterity’s Academy for Practical Magic is the best kindling school in New York City―and wealthy twelve-year-old Emma Harris is accustomed to the best. But when her father dies, leaving her penniless, Emma is reduced to working off her debts to Miss Posterity alongside Izzy, a daring servant girl who refuses to let her magic be snuffed out, even if society dictates she must. Emma and Izzy reluctantly form a pact: If Izzy teaches Emma how to survive as a servant, Emma will reveal to Izzy what she knows about magic.
Along the way, they encounter quizzes that literally pop, shy libraries, and talking cats (that is, house dragons). But when another student’s kindling goes horribly wrong, revealing the fiery dangers of magic, Emma and Izzy must set aside their differences or risk their magic being snuffed out forever.
Oh, The Gilded Girl. *insert big nostalgic sigh here* First off, let’s talk about how I stumbled upon this book and why I was drawn to it because to me it feels like a big reason that it resonated and I enjoyed it. Outside of the obvious stuff like what’s actually written in the book, ya know. Soooooo are any of ya’ll familiar with the 1995 movie A Little Princess? It’s the story of Sara Crewe the daughter of a wealthy-ish WWI soldier whose father sends her to a fancy boarding school in a big city (I want to say NYC but don’t quote me on this) but tragedy befalls her Daddy and she is forced into servitude at her boarding school to repay her debt.
I LOVED, loved, loved that movie as a kid. My favorite part was how the movie used an old tale from India that her dad used to tell her as a bedtime story to create scenes that juxtaposed Sara’s current circumstances. The movie is also very hopeful and as a kid, I loved the grand fantasticalness of how everything comes together in the end. I’m a sucker for the underdog. The Gilded Girl (what we’re really here to talk about today) is a retelling of A Little Princess and it’s a debut!
This book did not disappoint, and I absolutely loved it! First, I like middle grades a whole lot, and second, the writing in this is absolutely lovely! Colman’s writing throughout whispers a soft musicality and melody through the chapters and I never found myself bored or feeling like it was predictable. That said though I knew from the minute I saw this book on insta and realized it was an A Little Princess retelling that I was going to like it even if it was bad. My nostalgia had me invested.
The plot was pretty similar to the movie, so I knew going in what our main character Emma was going to endure at Miss Posterity’s Academy along the lines of her predecessor Sara Crewe. What I absolutely adored was how Alyssa included themes of class status and how that affects individuals in terms of magic being accessible only to those who can afford it in The Gilded Girl. I thought it was a delightful parallel to draw to our world where class is something that gives some people benefits others cannot/will not ever receive. At one point Emma and friends in the book come across a protest of workers fighting the fact that magic is only accessible to those who can pay, and someone says “that would make a great protest sign” during their discussion. My heart warmed thinking about middle graders today reading The Gilded Girl and dreaming up the signs they want to protest with. Yeahhh kiddos, learn to use those voices! Loud and early.
If you read my intro post, you know that I have a little bit of a thing for cats. This book has cats that are dragons. House dragons in fact. Conspiratorially cavorting around with Emma, Izzy, and friends is Figgy. He helps the girls find a place to practice magic and shields them from Miss Posterity’s wrath as much as he can. He also plays the sweet role of sage wisdom figure/mixed with a companion animal that keeps the girls’ company in the worst and best of times. I wanted Figgy to be a little sassier and snarky though in the end, I appreciated his gentle wisdom almost fathering type vibes he gave both girls.
Like the movie I remember, this book is also full of hope in the absolute cutest ways. The hope for a world where people are not judged based on what they do or do not have access to. Hope for a world where people’s circumstances can change, and people can be more than what and where they are currently. Hope for people to be seen as they are, for what they truly bring to the table not for what boxes they check off from the master list makers. The hope that there is always hope even when it feels like there is not. Most of all may be the hope that things can change, that they will change when needed most, and that perhaps the places we need to look for this change is not the past or the future in our literal world but the seeds of magic and kernels of hope in our written worlds. If authors have been creating new and glorious worlds where things are done differently for millennia (I’m a Gemini we’re melodramatic – sue me) I firmly believe we can use those same gifts to make some changes in ours.
Thank you, Alyssa Colman, for bringing this beautiful book to life and warming my heart! My little house dragon and I loved this read and we both give it 5/5 propellers!
Finally, to Izzy, Emma, Tom, Figgy, and friends: thank you for being the kind of characters that make me feel like a little girl giddily reading along turning pages so fast they tear and cut my fingertips. Thank you for being there during a month that was hard for me and did not feel as hopeful as I would have liked. When the shadows of our world get a little too close characters and stories like yours remind me of the living breathing hope in the world and help me breathe easy another day. You all are the reason I fell in love with books as a little one and I appreciate being able to relive it.
Check out Alyssa Colman
Alyssa Colman is the author of heartwarming middle-grade novels with a classic feel. Her books include THE GILDED GIRL and THE TARNISHED GARDEN (coming April 5, 2022), both from FSG/Macmillan Kids.
As a playwright, she was a winner of the 2013 ESPA new play competition at Primary Stages in New York and was a semi-finalist at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center National Playwrights Conference. She has participated as both a mentee and mentor in Author Mentor Match. Alyssa now lives in Los Angeles where she enjoys making messes in her kitchen and hiking with her family and their dog, Daisy.