Warning: This book review contains major spoilers for “Girls With Sharp Sticks” by Suzanne Young. Do not read this review if you want to avoid said spoilers.
I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing “Girls With Sharp Sticks” by Suzanne Young! I’ve read “Hotel Ruby” by this same author and overall enjoyed it, so I’m happy to pick up another book of hers. Here’s the summary so we know what it’s about:
“The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardians, the all-girl boarding school offers an array of studies and activities, from “Growing a Beautiful and Prosperous Garden” to “Art Appreciation” and “Interior Design.” The girls learn to be the best society has to offer. Absent is the difficult math coursework, or the unnecessary sciences or current events. They are obedient young ladies, free from arrogance or defiance. Until Mena starts to realize that their carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears.
As Mena and her friends begin to uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening there—and who they really are—the girls of Innovations will find out what they are truly capable of. Because some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.”
There are many instances of physical and verbal abuse throughout the book, especially in the middle, as well as implied sexual abuse between authority figures and minors, and other implied sexual content. Some dialogue contains slut-shaming, as well. The ‘reprogramming’ scene midway through the book is also somewhat graphic in description. If you are sensitive to any of this content, please read this book with caution or skip it entirely.
Plot Development: 3 out of 5 stars
Some of the plot twists were an actual surprise, and interesting to read. I also enjoyed reading how all the girls banded together to learn the truth behind Innovations Academy and their own origins, on top of working together to escape (with a little help from the outside with Jackson and his friend Quentin). However, some of the other twists (all of the girls are actually programmed robots!) were not as huge of a surprise, or felt like they cheapened the plot and made it less interesting.
For those who are sensitive to what I described in the trigger warnings, I’m not kidding when I mentioned that there are many instances of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. It’s scattered throughout the entire book to the point that you can’t go at least three chapters without seeing any of these scenes in a row. It definitely helped demonstrate how Innovations Academy is not the seemingly-perfect-looking place that it claims to be, but due to the abuse being heavily prevalent in the plotline, it will be definitely hard to read for those sensitive to the content.
Character Development: 2.5 out of 5 stars
As an ensemble, the main characters (a.k.a all of the students) are quite interesting. I enjoyed reading the bonds they have between each other, trying to support and look out for each other. I also enjoyed reading Jackson, though I wish there was more of him and Mena interacting with each other (though I understand it would’ve been difficult to pull off believably enough, given that 1. the Academy is an all-girls’ school and 2. Jackson is very much from the outside world and wouldn’t have been let in, especially with him being a regular guy).
Unfortunately, in terms of being fleshed-out individuals, the only characters I genuinely enjoyed reading were Lennon Rose and Jackson. I was hoping for more on Lennon’s presence in the book, even if her disappearance was the catalyst for Mena and the other girls finding out about what their origins were, but I am interested in seeing Lennon return, especially since a possibility of that is teased in the book’s epilogue. Jackson was a genuinely nice guy, and probably the only non-manipulative person who helped the girls escape (also, kudos to him for doing his research on the entire Academy beforehand). Leandra’s character development in terms of going from an abusive instructor to helping the girls escape didn’t make a lot of sense for me as a reader (though I did enjoy the twist of her being the one that spread the rebellious poetry in the first place), and I overall didn’t enjoy reading any of the teacher/authority characters due to all of them not having much personality over abusing the girls and enjoying it (especially when it came to the Guardian and Anton interacting with them).
Worldbuilding Development: 3.5 out of 5 stars
The worldbuilding was interesting to read in terms of how the whole academy functioned. It gets into some very creepy details in regards to how the (mostly male) instructors prey on the female students (and I won’t elaborate on them here). However, I also wish a good chunk of the worldbuilding wasn’t stuffed into the second half of the plot. I do think the occasional messages or emails seen inbetween chapters helped add to the overall worldbuilding and plot development, to emphasize how much strict control the authorities have over these girls. When reading the book, I definitely felt like I understood how much bad treatment was going on towards those girls, and this made me root for their eventual escape from the Academy.
However: The poetry contained in the book, though to the point and worked as a plot device somewhat, was badly written. It would’ve made more sense if the “poems” were described as “prose poems” or just “prose” rather than traditional poetry, at least.
I also would have enjoyed more detail on who the specific investors/rich people/etc. are, exactly, and why they’re so interested in having the girls as eventual brides/obedient servants (other than the obvious point that they want to do nothing but control women). Is there more to it than just a whole gender-specific power play they desire in their lives, or is there more to this? I also wished there were more details given on how Innovations Academy even found the specific tutors/authorities that educate the girls, too.
Romance Development: 1.5 out of 5 stars
I was hoping for more on Brynn and Marcella’s secret relationship, but it never got anywhere other than mentions of the two caring for each other and so on. There were not a lot of interactions between them that were witnessed in-person by Mena or anyone else in the book, so it felt like a cop-out on actually writing the secondary romance.
The main romance between Jackson and Mena was a bit quick to develop. Overall, I didn’t sense a lot of chemistry between the two, and it would’ve made more sense if these two were just friends rather than turning to lovers so fast.
Overall, I’m rating this book 2.5 out of 5 stars!
The worldbuilding was interesting, and same went for some of the characters, but I just wanted more than what the book presented. Had there been more development in worldbuilding, as well as the characters’ individual development rather than just group dynamics as a whole, I think this book could be more fun to read. Same goes for better-developed poetry.
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