Book name: The Head Girl at the Gables
Author: Angela Brazil
Format: ebook, print
Genre: School stories, vintage children’s fiction
Publication Date: 1919
Star Rating: 5/5
Not every Angela Brazil school story is set in a boarding school. Many are of course, including some of my personal favourites, However, the school featured in The Head Girl at the Gables is entirely a day school.
Lorraine Forrester lives with her family in Porthkeverne in the West Country. The town is popular with artists and writers, and there is quite a cultural and intellectual air around.
Lorraine goes to The Gables along with her younger sister Monica and cousin Vivien. She is about to go into the sixth form, and she is therefore eligible along with her classmates for the highly desirable post of head girl.
Vivien expects to be appointed head girl. This is a view shared by most of girls at The Gables. However, the headmistress Miss Kingsley chooses Lorraine instead after some fairly uninspiring comparisons between the available choices.
The last head girl was brilliant at her job, and Miss Kingsley and her staff have little confidence that this year’s head girl will be anything like as good.
Thankfully, they are about to be proven entirely wrong.
Lorraine settles into being head girl really easily and does a great job. She reforms many of the school societies, which were far too many and very burdensome.
It’s wartime, so her project to eliminate barriers between juniors and seniors is extremely welcome. Everyone is in this together, both at school and beyond. Lorraine senses this shift in national mood and makes some brave decisions at school.
Courtesy of The Gables being a day school, The Head Girl at The Gables isn’t just about being at school. After a strong focus initially on Lorraine’s efforts as head girl, and Vivien’s resistance to her appointment, the narrative moves on to the Forrester families’ lives outside school.
The war features heavily in the story. The girls’ older brothers have all joined up, and Lorraine’s friend Claudia has an elder brother who is waiting to be called up when he turns eighteen.
Angela Brazil portrays an aimless young man for whom, in due course, military service and discipline prove to be just what was needed. This was done gently and with a great deal of common sense. It really worked.
The girls work hard to run a white elephant stall to raise money for the troops by bringing in items from home no one wants and selling them to each other. It’s a brilliant success.
We also saw plenty of young women who have left school volunteering and working for the war effort, and the inspiring effect this had on girls like Lorraine and Claudia.
There is also a plotline involving spies, which came through towards the latter half of the book when the issues around wartime service and the head girl had already been resolved.
This was carefully managed so that the disappointment and hostility towards the individual spies was always the focus. The spies’ plotline really picked up the narrative pace.
Lorraine’s uncle is a special constable, so she’s right in there at the thick of when she witnesses suspicious behaviour and reports it to the authorities.
I just loved The Head Girl at the Gables. It was everything that was best in patriotic wartime children’s fiction. I found Lorraine and Claudia’s efforts genuinely touching.
Angela Brazil’s tone and approach was spot on. There was a positive element to the narrative, a great sense of what young people could do to make a difference in the war both at home and abroad.
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