Books that take place at a boarding school are my favorite, so needless to say, I was very excited about the opportunity to read All Girls.
As the prestigious Atwater School prepares to welcome its students back for a new school year, they encounter an unexpected surprise: signboards along the local roads, except instead of presenting a jovial message like the Burma Shave ads of almost a century ago, they announce that the school is harboring a rapist.
Naturally, this sends shockwaves through the entire Atwater community. Rather than presenting one girl’s experience at school like Sittenfeld’s Prep, this book presents a cohesive narrative of the school year through the eyes of a series of girls. While the scandal—a student from 25 years ago has accused an unnamed male faculty member of coercing her into a sexual relationship when she was a senior—is always in the background, the main themes are much more about American girlhood than this particular scandal. The students are from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds; they also have different interests, presenting the breadth of the student body at a place like Atwater.
It is difficult to pick a “favorite” perspective because each of the girls had something interesting to offer. One aspect that I found interesting was that even though the narration unfolds via the third person, Layden still manages to infuse a sense of unreliability; for various reasons, the girls are not revealing the whole picture.
I especially enjoyed this book because the fictional Atwater School is located in the same cozy corner of my own alma mater, where I spent a postgraduate year after high school. Furthermore, I am also an alumna of an all-girls school, so I appreciated both the camaraderie of the students and their appreciation for Atwater’s traditions.
I would absolutely recommend All Girls. This is a stunning debut novel; I found myself engrossed in its plot and a little sad when the book ended. This is one of my new favorites, and I know I will be re-reading it soon. I am also looking forward to reading more from Layden in the future.
I received an ARC of this book from St. Martin’s/NetGalley