Review of The St. Ambrose School for Girls by Jessica Ward

Paranormal writer J.R. Ward writing historical YA (can the 90’s be historical?!) under the pseudonym Jessica Ward in what felt like a laborious outing in The St. Ambrose School for Girls.

Blurb: When Sarah Taylor arrives at the exclusive St. Ambrose School, she’s carrying more baggage than just what fits in her suitcase. She knows she’s not like the other girls—if the shabby, all-black, non-designer clothes don’t give that away, the bottle of lithium hidden in her desk drawer sure does.

St. Ambrose’s queen bee, Greta Stanhope, picks Sarah as a target from day one and the most popular, powerful, horrible girl at school is relentless in making sure Sarah knows what the pecking order is. Thankfully, Sarah makes an ally out of her roommate Ellen “Strots” Strotsberry, a cigarette-huffing, devil-may-care athlete who takes no bullshit. Also down the hall is Nick Hollis, the devastatingly handsome RA, and the object of more than one St. Ambrose student’s fantasies. Between Strots and Nick, Sarah hopes she can make it through the semester, dealing with not only her schoolwork and a recent bipolar diagnosis, but Greta’s increasingly malicious pranks.

Sarah is determined not to give Greta the satisfaction of breaking her. But when scandal unfolds, and someone ends up dead, her world threatens to unravel in ways she could never have imagined. The St. Ambrose School for Girls is a dangerous, delicious, twisty coming-of-age tale that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

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Sarah Taylor is starting fresh at a new school, The St. Ambrose School for Girls. Was this her idea? No. Her mother found an essay of hers and submitted it; that along with Sarah’s excellent grades were enough to get her a scholarship. On her very first day she meets Greta Stanhope (again, thanks to her mother) who arrives in fancy clothes and a fancy car. It soon becomes clear that Greta is one of the stereotypical mean girls who no one wants to cross and one would be well-advised to avoid. That is except for Sarah’s new roommate, Ellen “Strots” Strotsberry, who has more money and attitude than Greta and really isn’t afraid of anything. Or, most things. She has a secret.

When Sarah accidentally crosses Greta, she gets in the crosshairs of the mean girl, who unapologetically pulls pranks (one is indeed worse than a prank) without any repercussions. And, why would there be repercussions when Greta’s family has clout and Sarah has a bipolar condition that is known amongst the faculty and calls into question her credibility? As the situation escalates, Sarah finds that the stakes are higher than just her possessions–that lives are in jeopardy as well in Jessica Ward’s The St. Ambrose School for Girls.

If The St. Ambrose School for Girls had been pared down, especially at the beginning, I would have happily rated it higher. However, there are pages upon pages in which Sarah just thinks things. No. Add pages upon pages upon pages. The writing during these interludes felt self-indulgent. That is in no way a reflection on mental illness but rather on the author’s attempt to create a stage of a character’s interior life, which would be great if it were an unusual, creative interior life or fascinating thought processes. And, unfortunately, the thought processes sometimes call into question the character’s supposed genius-status when she arrives at conclusions far too late. The less-is-more philosophy would have worked perfectly here. Write less but hit us harder.

On the flipside, I did like how Sarah began to understand her mother whom she had always criticized. She began to see her as a real person with concerns who had done more for Sarah and done without for Sarah than Sarah had ever begun to realize. I really liked those passages.

The mystery was mostly well done, although, like a great deal of the novel, manipulation of evidence ventured into moral ambiguity. There was a lot of moral ambiguity in this book.

Did this novel stay with me long after I finished that final page? Unfortunately no. In fact, a week later I had forgotten I had read it until I saw that I had never reviewed it. (Oopsie.) The St. Ambrose School for Girls never left me feeling that this was anything more than fiction.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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