Our May Author Takeover is by Cat Clarke, whose latest YA novel, Girlhood, is a darkly compulsive story about love, death, and growing up under the shadow of grief. Set in a boarding school in Scotland, the familiar halls are the perfect place for Potter fans to escape to in this compulsive, addictive read. Yet there are some sinister secrets that threaten to tear friendships apart. This thrilling emotional suspense story is out this week.
Harper has tried to forget the past and fit in at expensive boarding school Duncraggan Academy. Her new group of friends are tight; the kind of girls who Harper knows have her back. But Harper can’t escape the guilt of her twin sister’s Jenna’s death. New girl Kirsty seems to get Harper in ways she never expected. She has lost a sister too. Harper finally feels secure. Then Kirsty’s behaviour becomes more erratic. Why is her life a perfect mirror of Harper’s? And why is she so obsessed with Harper’s lost sister? Soon, Harper’s closeness with Kirsty begins to threaten her other relationships, and her own sense of identity. How can Harper get back to the person she wants to be, and to the girls who mean the most to her?
Cat Clarke is the bestselling, award-winning author of six YA novels. She was born in Zambia and brought up in Edinburgh and Yorkshire, which has given her an accent that tends to confuse people. Cat lives in Edinburgh with her partner, two ninja cats, and two decidedly non-ninja cocker spaniels.
New Kid on the Boarding School Block
“Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”
I’ve always been fascinated by boarding schools, ever since I discovered Malory Towers. Midnight feasts, practical jokes, and living miles away from your parents… what’s not to like? Since then, I’ve devoured every boarding school story I can get my grubby little mitts on. And the Harry Potter series is, of course, one of my absolute favorites. Who knows if Rowling’s books would have become such a worldwide phenomenon without the Hogwarts setting? (Answers on a postcard, please.)
There may not be any magic in my book Girlhood, but I’ve used the same trope of a new kid – an outsider – starting boarding school. Tropes are tropes for a reason – because they tap into something that appeals to us. Most of us have been the new kid at some point in our lives, so it’s easy for us to empathize.
To begin with, Harry and my main character, Harper, have some things in common: they’re both dealing with grief and guilt, and both feel fundamentally different from the people they suddenly find themselves among.
Talking about boarding school, it’s impossible to ignore class. Most boarding schools attract wealthy and privileged families. Although Harry discovers his parents’ fortune before he goes to Hogwarts, he grew up knowing nothing about it. Sleeping in a cupboard under the stairs is hardly the lap of luxury.
In Girlhood, Harper comes from a working-class family. She’s able to apply to Duncraggan Castle only when her father wins the lottery. When she arrives at the school, nothing can prepare her for the very different worldview of the other students. It takes time for her to adjust to this new “normal,” and she learns to keep things to herself in order to fit in. But it’s impossible for Harper – and Harry – to keep a low profile, particularly when the bullies start circling.
Secrets have a nasty habit of being exposed, and when you’re at boarding school 24/7, protecting your privacy is all but impossible. Think of the things Harry is desperate to keep to himself – his newfound ability to speak Parseltongue or his visions of Voldemort. The truth always comes out.
Harper’s secret is a biggie: her twin sister died the day before the lottery win. And there’s one particular aspect of the secret that threatens to crush Harper: she feels responsible for her sister’s death. So far she’s managed to keep her guilt to herself… but that all changes when the new girl shows up.
Finally, there’s one more thing that links Harry’s and Harper’s boarding school experiences. Something that makes the sadness, self-doubt, and deadly peril just about worth it.
I know what you’re thinking…
And yes, everyone (especially Ron) loves a good feast, but also…
FRIENDS! Friends as the family you choose is something very close to my heart. Both Harry and Harper find their people at boarding school. Not all of us can go to Hogwarts like Harry (so unfair) or a fancypants boarding school on the Scottish coast, like Harper, but if we’re lucky, all of us can find our people. Whether it’s school friends or uni friends, or friends you’ve met online, this is what it’s all about. Finding the people who will have your back. Always.