A Great and Terrible Beauty

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A Great and Terrible Beauty

by Libba Bray

Random House Children's Books | March 22, 2005 | Trade Paperback |

4.5645 out of 5 rating. 62 Reviews
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It's 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma's reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she's been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence's most powerful girls-and their foray into the spiritual world-lead to?


From the Hardcover edition.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 432 Pages, 5.51 × 7.87 × 0.79 in

Published: March 22, 2005

Publisher: Random House Children's Books

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0385732317

ISBN - 13: 9780385732314

Appropriate for ages: 13 - 17

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– More About This Product –

A Great and Terrible Beauty

A Great and Terrible Beauty

by Libba Bray

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 432 Pages, 5.51 × 7.87 × 0.79 in

Published: March 22, 2005

Publisher: Random House Children's Books

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0385732317

ISBN - 13: 9780385732314

About the Book

It's 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from India to a boarding school in England. Lonely and prone to visions of the future, Gemma is now being followed by a mysterious young Indian man who's been sent to watch her. But why?

Read from the Book

Chapter One June 21, 1895 Bombay, India "Please tell me that''s not going to be part of my birthday dinner this evening." I am staring into the hissing face of a cobra. A surpris-ingly pink tongue slithers in and out of a cruel mouth while an Indian man whose eyes are the blue of blindness inclines his head toward my mother and explains in Hindi that cobras make very good eating. My mother reaches out a white-gloved finger to stroke the snake''s back. "What do you think, Gemma? Now that you''re sixteen, will you be dining on cobra?" The slithery thing makes me shudder. "I think not, thank you." The old, blind Indian man smiles toothlessly and brings the cobra closer. It''s enough to send me reeling back where I bump into a wooden stand filled with little statues of Indian deities. One of the statues, a woman who is all arms with a face bent on terror, falls to the ground. Kali, the destroyer. Lately, Mother has accused me of keeping her as my unofficial patron saint. Lately, Mother and I haven''t been getting on very well. She claims it''s because I''ve reached an impossible age. I state emphatically to anyone who will listen that it''s all because she refuses to take me to London. "I hear in London, you don''t have to defang your meals first," I say. We''re moving past the cobra man and into the throng of people crowding every inch of Bombay''s frenzied marketplace. Mother doesn''t answer but waves away an organ-grinder and his monkey.
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From the Publisher

It's 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma's reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she's been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence's most powerful girls-and their foray into the spiritual world-lead to?


From the Hardcover edition.

From the Jacket

It''s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma''s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she''s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence''s most powerful girls--and their foray into the spiritual world--lead to?

"From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Libba Bray is the author of the New York Times bestselling Gemma Doyle trilogy, comprised of A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing. She is also the author of Beauty Queens and Going Bovine, which won the Michael L. Printz Award. Libba lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, son, and two cats. Visit her at libbabray.com.

Bookclub Guide

1. Despite visions and a special destiny, Gemma is not so unlike the other girls at Spence in her feelings of alienation and her yearning for acceptance. Gemma's need to fit into her new school leads to her being locked in the chapel in the middle of the night. Would you have made the same choice? Have you ever done something you didn't want to do, to get someone to like you? Have you ever taken advantage of someone who wanted you to like him or her?

2. The Realms are a place where anything seems possible. Each of the four girls wants one thing above all else: Felicity desires power, Pippa seeks love, Ann wants beauty, and Gemma craves self-knowledge. Does any of the characters achieve her goal by the end of the story? Why or why not? What would you want?

3. Gemma says of Felicity, "I don't yet know what power feels like. But this is surely what it looks like, and I think I'm beginning to understand why those ancient women had to hide in caves. Why our parents and teachers and suitors want us to behave properly and predictably. It's not that they want to protect us; it's that they fear us" (p. 207). What kind of power is Gemma talking about? What is it that she thinks the parents and teachers and suitors fear?

4. Women. Power. These two words conjure many images and emotions, and they appear throughout A Great and Terrible Beauty. What connections does Libba Bray draw between the two words? How does she characterize the Victorians' view of powerful women? How do you think powerful women are viewed today?

5. Bray paints the Victorian age as a time when appearances must be kept up at all times. Appearances matter more than reality, and anything interesting is kept a secret. For example, Gemma's family hides the nature of Virginia Doyle's death to avoid scandal. Likewise, in the Realms, appearances are deceiving. Gemma, Ann, Pippa, and Felicity believe their dreams are coming true-but is that really the case? What do you think the author meant by drawing a parallel between reality and paradise? Is it ever really possible to escape or change reality?

6. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly said, "Bray brilliantly depicts a caste system, in which girls are taught to abandon individuality in favor of a man's wishes, as a deeper and darker horror than most things that go bump in the night." Do you think Gemma has achieved a certain freedom by the end of the novel? Are her supernatural powers responsible for bringing about this freedom? Do you think she would have been such a rebel if it hadn't been for her magic?

7. In Diary of an Author on AGreatandTerribleBeauty.com, Libba Bray says, "Why do we do this to our girls? Why do we spend a lifetime whittling them down into bite-sized nuggets, something easily digested that will upset no stomach? Why can't we allow them to ask for what they want?" Does the novel answer that question? If so, how? Do you believe that conditions for women have improved over the past hundred years?

8. The girls of Spence have a great deal of adult supervision, but there is a glaring absence of parental love. What role does this absence play in Gemma's and her friends' lives and the choices they make? Do you think Pippa would have made a different choice had her parents behaved differently? How would Gemma's and Felicity's lives be changed if their fathers were available-in Gemma's case mentally, and in Felicity's case physically? What about Ann?

9. It's a dream, only a dream," Gemma thinks of her sexually charged encounter with Kartik (p. 219). Why do you think Gemma stops the fantasy when she does? Why do you think the author chose to make this scene a dream rather than a reality? Do you believe this makes Gemma's experience any less "real" to her?

10. The Realms' answer to Gemma's desire for self-knowledge is Virginia Doyle. Why do you think Gemma must understand her mother in order to understand herself? Gemma concludes, "I'm going to have to let her go to accept the mother I'm only just discovering" (p. 394). How are the two mothers Gemma refers to different? Why does Gemma have to forgive her mother first if she is to understand her?

Appropriate for ages: 13 - 17

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