A great and terrible beauty, by Libba Bray, is the story of sixteen year old, Gemma Doyle, after the murder of her mother which results in her leaving India and going to a boarding school, Spence Academy for Young Ladies, in England to be transformed into the perfect lady.
After becoming haunted by the idea that her mother’s murder/suicide could be her fault, Gemma isn’t too pleased about being shipped off the boarding school as her father falls into the life of an addict and her grandmother and brother, Tom, seem all too willing to push the family issues under the carpet for appearances sake.
Since her mother’s death, Gemma has been plagued with visions and is increasingly becoming scared of them. Especially after a young man she encountered on the day her mother died by the name of Kartik, who is a member of the Rakashana, threatens her if she continues to have her visions and follows her all the way to Spence.
The mystery that surrounds her mother’s death quickly unfolds at Spence after Gemma finds the diary of Mary Dowd, who seemed to have the same power of Gemma, and she becomes good friends with Felicity Worthington, Pippa Cross, and Ann Brashaw.
The foursome rebel against what Spence teaches them by creating their own Order, sneaking off in the middle of the night to drink whiskey, and enter the realms and bring the magic that has been locked their since the untimely death of Mary Dowd and Sarah Reese-Tomb which resulted in the East Wing at Spence to burn down.
When the adults hand down an reality check to the girls once their rebellion comes to light, one of the girls chooses a deadly turn as her last form of rebellion against the demands of their elders.
The book is a coming of age story that opens our eyes to just how foolish people could be when they were children, and the consequences of our actions. But, it also reminds us that we were all children at one time. Who thought we had all the answers, and didn’t think our plans through until it was too late.
Though, the book does take some dark turns: it leaves the reader with some hope for Gemma and her friends at Spence. The book ends with more questions than answers, which preludes to the second book in the series.