About the Book
- Dodie Smith
BFF Charm: Platinum
Talky Talk: Straight Up
Bonus Factor: Castle!
Relationship Status: First Love
A quick note about Required Reading: I was perusing the shelves of Corporate Book Store Which Will Remain Nameless last week and I noticed that they had two tables filled with required reading for high schoolers. (Did you know that they’re still making kids read Across Five Aprils? When is that war going to end?) I started thinking about those classic YA books that I grew up with, and I hope to share some of them with you.
Cassandra Mortmain is your average 17-year old girl, if your idea of average is living on less than 50 quid a year, with your self-absorbed older sister, your erratic younger brother, your nudist hippie stepmother and a reclusive, misanthropic father. In a castle. In 1935.
Cassandra’s life is pretty topsy-turvy – her father wrote a famous book that earned him a good deal of money, but after a short stint in jail (for accidentally trying to murder his first wife with a cake knife), he rounded up his family and left the bustle of London for a deserted 14th century castle in Suffolk. There, he slips further into himself, refusing even to discuss writing another novel, while the family slips into crippling poverty. Cassandra’s stepmother, Topaz,is an artist’s model and occassional nudist; her sister, Rose, feels stifled by the constraints of poverty and desperately wishes to marry rich. And Stephen, the Mortmain’s general man-of-work, is in love with Cassandra. This is all pretty normal for Cassandra, until the Mortmains gain two new landlords, in the form of rich, young American brothers.
Will Rose be able to make her dream of marrying a wealthy man come true? Will Cassandra be able to follow her heart? Will Topaz ever put her clothes back on?
BFF Charm: Platinum
Not only would I love to be BFF with Cassandra Mortmain, I’m pretty sure that I actually AM BFF with Cassandra. Cassandra asks the same important questions that I do when meeting new friends! Would you rather be Emily or Charlotte Bronte? Is Pride and Prejudice the best novel in the world (um, obvs!)? Do you know how to speed-write? These are important things to know!
Plus, even though I was mildly joking when I said Cassandra was a normal girl, she kind of is. She’s straddling the line between child and woman; she has a father she desperately emulates and seeks approval from, and she is stuck in between two siblings whose dreams or situations make them more likely to stand out. She’s also sarcastic and witty, caring and fiercely smart, which are v. good qualities to have in a bestie.
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
So, here’s the deal: even though romantic triangles make up a large part of this book, I’m not really a superfan of any of the suitors. Stephen is kind and humble and lovely, and does things like copy poems out and give them to Cassandra as gifts, and that’s totally sweet. But at the same time, who wants someone to just follow them around, begging for attention? Gross.
Simon and Neil, the American brothers, are kind of like Susan and Sharon from The Parent Trap. Neil was raised in California and is carefree and lighthearted, while Simon was raised in New England and is serious and sober. (Nothing in the book suggests that they met for the first time at summer camp, however.) Things start out one way in their relationships with the Mortmain sisters, but quickly become jumbled,and there’s really no clear person to root for, other than Cassandra. But all six of these swoonworthy points go to Mr Simon Cotton, whose noble demeanor masks quite the romantic, rogueish heart! Plus he has a beard.
Talky Talk: Straight Up!
Okay, so the book WAS written in the 1940s, and it is set in England, in a CASTLE, so the prose isn’t exactly like what you’d hear on Gossip Girl. But Cassandra narrates the novel through journal entries, and her refreshing, honest and witty portrayals of her family and friends are incredibly fun and moving to read.
Bonus Factor: Castle!!!
I mean, come on! Who wouldn’t want to live in a castle?? Okay, so it’s a little drafty, considering the Mortmains can’t afford to heat it, and, okay, castles are actually a little bit creepy. But still! CASTLE! Imagine wandering out onto your tower’s balcony when you can’t sleep at night. I could get used to that.
Relationship Factor: First Love
It’s hard to forget your first love, and it’s hard to forget this book. There are many novels I’ve read since that I liked more, but I have to say that I will often read a YA novel and think, “Cassandra wouldn’t do this.” It’s Cassandra Mortmain, along with Elizabeth Bennett, Mary Lennox and Jo March, that I carry with me in my head of what a young woman should be – independent, smart and resilient – and it’s those characters that everyone since has had to live up to.
FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased my own copy of this book. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). I Capture the Castle is available now.