Libba Bray

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A Great and Terrible Beauty Editorial Reviews:


"A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy--jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel.

"Gemma, 16, has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother’s death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls’ academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions "for a bit of fun" and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left wi! th the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the "others" and rebuild the Order. A Great and Terrible Beauty is an impressive first book in what should prove to be a fascinating trilogy. (Ages 12 up) – Patty Campbell"

From Booklist

"Gr. 8-12. Gemma Doyle is no ordinary nineteenth-century British teenager; she has disturbing visions. Upon finding the diary of a young student who was also a visionary of sorts, Gemma and three classmates, each of whom, like Gemma, has a personal demon to overcome, follow the diarist's lead and travel into the Realms, a place of both joy and danger. The jacket, a photo of a young woman in a tightly laced corset and lacy camisole, bespeaks a steamy love story (Gemma does have some sexy dreams..."


Libba Bray graduated from the University of Texas in Austin in 1988 as a theater major. As a budding playwright she felt it important to be in New York, so when her childhood best friend, already living in Manhattan, called saying she was looking for a roommate Bray was soon on her way to New York. Her first job was in the publicity department of Penguin Putnam, followed by 3 years at Spier, an advertising agency specializing in book advertising.

Bray was encouraged to write a young adult novel by her husband, Barry Goldblatt, a children's book agent, and Ginee Seo, an editor at Simon & Schuster. Before this, using a pseudonym, she had written three books for 17th Street Press (a publisher of romances).

When starting to write a book Bray says she always writes in longhand at a coffee shop - "It's a good way to keep the internal critic at bay, to write in a mad, caffeinated torrent."

She explains that the mother-daughter theme of A Great and Terrible Beauty unfolds on multiple levels, both in terms of the mother-child relationship but also in terms of feminism. She says "A lot of the initial idea [for the novel] stemmed from emerging female sexuality and how threatening that is to the girls themselves and to the world at large. We're comfortable with women in certain roles but not comfortable with women expressing anger or fully accepting their power. The most daring question a woman can ask is, 'What do I want?"

The positive response to A Great and Terrible Beauty has boosted Bray's confidence a bit, she says "I had a friend who said, 'You don't have an internal critic, you have an internal sadist.' So it's helped to quiet the sadist. It's made it easier for me to answer 'What do you do?' with 'I'm a writer,' and lay claim to that."

A Great and Terrible Beauty is the first in a planned trilogy. The second book is due in June 2004, but Bray has barely started on it. She says "I always think about what my late, great father used to say. When I told him I work best under pressure, he said, 'Darlin', you only work under pressure'."

Libba Bray

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