Academy Girls Review
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For many teenage girls, the high school years are a blur of homework, gossip, friendships, and crushes—most of which are left behind after graduation day. But in author Nora Carroll’s Academy Girls, one woman is forced to return to the scene of her teens, where she’s faced with all of her indiscretions and teen obsessions.

The story follows Jane Milton as she returns to Vermont to teach English at the boarding school that she left 35 years ago. Recently divorced and almost penniless, Jane has no choice but to return to the Grove Academy—the school that she and her best friends, Kat and Lissa, once ruled. But as soon as she moves in, the familiar buildings—along with a few familiar faces—help to resurrect old memories. And as the school year begins, the ghosts of old fixations and unsolved mysteries come back to haunt her.

Ghosts of the past can be haunting enough when you’ve got nothing to hide—but Jane’s story is one of old secrets, lies, and cover-ups. From the moment that she first returns to the Grove Academy, it’s clear that something dark and dramatic (and potentially scandalous) lingers beneath the surface of the story—something that goes beyond the usual pressures and rivalries of high school. This isn’t a happy homecoming; it’s more dreaded than desired. And Carroll’s descriptions of the campus—from its remote setting to its residents—give the novel an eerie tone almost immediately.

The story that plays out, then, is one of the pointless obsessions and thoughtless manipulations of youth—but it’s more shadowy than the same old teenage drama. Jane looks back on her senior year—especially on her investigation into the unsolved murder of a former headmaster and her rather irrational conviction that her poetry teacher was somehow responsible. Though her teenage logic doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, her determination to uncover the truth leads the novel in some fascinating (and life-altering) directions. And, 35 years later, Jane once again finds herself caught up in the search for clues to a long-unsolved (and mostly forgotten) murder while wrestling with the effect it had on her friends, classmates, and teachers.

Admittedly, though, the story isn’t always easy to follow. As it jumps back and forth between 1979 and 2004, it piles on revelations, hunches—and Emily Dickinson poetry, and it takes some effort to sort past from present and fact from fiction. But if you’re able to follow along with the story’s skips and jumps, you’ll be in for an intriguing story of jealousy and revenge.

Academy Girls isn’t a brainless read; it takes some effort to follow the story through three generations of prep school drama. But the mystery and intrigue—and Carroll’s thoughtful storytelling—make it worthwhile.

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