Penguin, 2013 489 pgs
Ava is a recently orphaned teenager, who is employed at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911 New York City. She lives through the fire, surviving only by being lifted from the burning building by what appears to be an angel. After a traumatic stint in a mental institution, Ava is found by a long-lost grandmother and sent to attend Blythewood Academy, an elite boarding school for young ladies up the Hudson River. Once there, Ava makes friends with her roommate, socialite Helen and simple mid-western girl Daisy, along with the head of the school's son Nathan. Before long the true purpose of the academy is revealed: the girls are being trained to hunt magical creatures (such as fairies and sprites), all of which are thought of as evil and lurk in abundance in the woods outside the academy. The girls control the magical beasts by ringing bells, a power which Ava can do in her head, making her special. The angel-like figure, who saved Ava from the fire, keeps appearing to her and eventually a friendship, which slowly warms up to romance, develops. His name is Raven and he is a Darkling, a sworn enemy to mankind. Time and experience divulges that not all magical creatures are evil, especially Darklings. Ava must find the proof to alert the rest of the school before innocent magical creatures are eliminated in cold blood. Meanwhile, the truth about Ava's parentage, as well as that of others close to her at the academy, eventually comes to light. The spy, who was working with a shady character trailing Ava throughout the book, is also exposed. The story ends with another famous historic event, the sinking of the Titanic, in which Ava and another classmate are directly involved. The good work continues in the next installment, Ravencliffe, which was released in 2014.
Blythewood is a very ambitious book. A lot happens in this book from real historic events to a fully realized magical forest with connections to the land of Fairy. Between students, faculty, and family there are also a lot of characters to keep straight. Considering the vast amount of characters, my usual struggle keeping everyone straight in simpler books, I did okay, which is a testament to Goodman's writing. The book was also a little long and, although there were many exciting moments, dialog heavy. Criticisms aside, there will be an audience for this book. Girls will be drawn to Blythewood more than boys, especially those who fall into fantasy. Fans of Maggie Stiefvater and Sarah Maas will love a trip to Blythewood. Although there is a lot of violence. romance, and questions of parentage, the book stays relatively innocent and never gets too graphic. The magical creatures are cool and well-drawn and we get to experience them, as well as an excursion to Fairy, along with Ava. Themes of friendship, loyalty, standing up for what is right, and thinking for yourself are all introduced and Ava proves herself to be both a role model and a survivor. Not just a simple work of fantasy, the historic elements add a bit of depth to the plot and a mystery with a clear-cut solution and villain (s) add to the satisfaction of the conclusion. Putting Blythewood in a very real time and familiar place make the story seem possible. Could there be magical creatures lurking in the woods of New Jersey? I like to think that maybe there could be.