Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mean Girls in Tudor England

15. Gilt by Katherine Longshore

I received Gilt for review via LibraryThing, and was rather thrown off by the unabashedly YA cover. You shouldn't be! While this is a YA book, it's among the best in its genre, and another historical fiction novel bucking the bodice-ripping historical romance trend.

In this smart, hip criticism of modern girl culture, Katherine Longshore transports Mean Girls to Tudor England.

Readers will be seduced from the beginning with detailed descriptions of Tudor era opulence. Longshore finds her parallel to Regina in Catherine Howard, or Cat, Henry VIII's fifth wife. The teenage Cat has a bottomless appetite for clothes, jewelry, and young men. She is queen of the group of unwanted Howard nieces and cousins who live as servants-in-all-but-name to their grandmother, dowager duchess of Norfolk. In this boarding school-like setting, Cat blithely manipulates her friends and family members to suit her desires, particularly her "shadow," her "mirror," her "sister of the soul," Kitty Tylney, who hails from the even poorer side of the family. In Kitty, the audience will find its moral anchor and spark of light for the insufficiently gilded road ahead.

Longshore's dialogue and pacing are distinctly modern. Though some historical fiction purists will criticize her, her vernacular is consistent and fits with the parallel she is trying to make--in five centuries, teenage girls haven't changed. Anachronistic phrases like "Shut up," and "best friend," feel authentic in the mouths of her characters. Although she occasionally runs away with her language, Longshore's inventiveness and extensive vocabulary bring an extra dimension to her writing. She will undoubtedly be compared to Philippa Gregory (and deservedly so, this is equal to Gregory's best work in The Other Boleyn Girl), but her writing style more closely mimics that of Suzanne Collins.

Gilt is a fast and thrilling read, and demonstrates a complex understanding both of teenage girl hierarchies and palace politics. While Gilt may be read for pleasure, it may be read again for social commentary. The historical parallel drives home that while modern schoolgirls may not be in a position to have their heads chopped off by mad monarchs, selfishness and materialism hurts everyone. And furthermore, while Cat is far from sympathetic, we can see this much through Kitty's eyes: Not even Regina deserves to be hit by a bus.

Recommended especially to teenage girls, but also to fans of historical fiction and adult fans of YA books.

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