Book name: The Youngest Girl in the Fifth
Author: Angela Brazil
Format: Print, ebook
Genre: Vintage children’s fiction
Publication Date: 1914
Star Rating: 5/5
Gwen Gascoyne is one of a large family. Their widowed father is a curate in a parish in northern England, so the family manages on a low income.
The dream of becoming a vicar and having a more comfortable financial situation feels like it is a long way off.
Gwen’s elder sister Winnie works at Miss Roscoe’s school, earning her sisters the right to study there for free in lieu of payment.
Meanwhile, Beatrice (the elder) is stuck at home as housekeeper when all she wants is to become a nurse.
There is good news for the family when Gwen is suddenly promoted to the Fifth Form.
This brings challenges, however, since Gwen is young for her existing form and must leave all her existing friends behind.
The Fifth aren’t particularly welcoming towards her either, being actually aggrieved that someone has been promoted into their form at such a young age.
Those who had to wait until they were old enough to join the Fifth are particularly unimpressed.
Gwen’s troubles really begin when she is lured into naughtiness by one of her new form. She doesn’t know Netta Goodwin well enough to stay clear.
Sneaking into the headmistress’s sitting room, Gwen and Netta break a parcel that turns out to contain a tea set.
Netta gaslights Gwen into feeling responsible and even agreed to lend her the money to buy a replacement.
Gwen’s problems deepen when the maid Emma steals the money rather than paying off the debt with the shop.
And her continuing connection with Netta, to whom she now owes money she can’t help to repay, makes it hard for Gwen to make decent friends in her new form.
I really like that Angela Brazil’s books generate a new scenario and set of characters every time. Here, a day school and a family with genuine financial troubles provided an honest assessment of how challenging life can be.
Gwen was likeable and full of talent and hope for the future, however the difficulties she faced during the narrative were real and abiding. Hers was no easy life but she was determined to sort out the situation, and this was one of the things that I appreciated most about her.
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