Title: The Education of Bet
Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Concepts: wealth, class, gender inequality, child work and schooling
Review: As the daughter of a maid and an unknown father, Elizabeth (Bet) Smith occupied a rather low position on the social scale. Bet remembered living with her mother in the maid’s quarters in the house of a wealthy couple and their son Will. When both her mother and the couple died of typhoid, an even richer relation took Will and Bet to live with him. Although the uncle treated her well, Bet felt acutely aware that she belonged to neither the family nor the servants.
Bet dreamed of gaining a formal education, a privilege to which girls were not entitled in nineteenth-century England. Her intellect and spunk served her well, though, when she came up with the scheme of disguising herself as a boy and taking Will’s place at the new boarding school he was supposed to attend. Will preferred to enlist in the military, against his uncle’s wishes, so the idea seemed like a win-win situation. Neither anticipated the extent to which Bet’s education would involve more than classroom learning as she encountered rampant bullying, extracurricular activities in which she had no previous skills, and an extremely handsome roommate.
Oozing with wit and charm, this novel places an old idea (girl pretends to be boy and falls in love) into a historical setting in which girls had no rights and boys with money enjoyed a rather privileged life. The romance and action work well together to enchant even those readers who otherwise might avoid historical fiction.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children