The Divines is an interesting and difficult book to review because I simultaneously felt uncertain about it while also enjoying it, as well as simultaneously found it both introduced some memorable discussions, while also felt a bit forgettable. I know that sentence is full of contradictions, so let's just dive into my thoughts around this book.
At a general level, The Divines is yet another all-girls boarding school story in which a group of elite girls, who calls themselves 'Divines' after the name of the school, are generally rebellious, problematic, and bullies as they navigate their formative years. However, it's also a story about what it's like to be both part of a clique or 'in-group' while also feeling ostracized from a group on another level. It's about decisions, mistakes, and learning how to deal with the past.
This is one of those books where you feel a constant low-level sense of anxiety and discomfort as we watch these privileged girls undergo their daily lives at boarding school. They are often cruel to others, especially 'social pariah' Gerry Lake, and this seemingly senseless bullying that our protagonist perpetuates makes for a compellingly flawed set of characters that make it hard to empathize with. Josephine, especially, is not an overly likable character, and although she may have good sentiments at heart, she lacks the courage to actually be kind or stand up for anything which in turn makes her at times frustrating to follow. There were so many opportunities for her to do something different, but she always reverted back to the habits she acquired as a Divine with the rest of her fellow Divines. This also relates to another character, Lauren, who is not a Divine but slowly and unexpectedly befriends Josephine. This was such a weird and magnetic relationship, and I liked seeing how Eaton developed it, but I do feel like there was something missing that never got quite resolved by the end.
The story follows only Josephine's perspective, but it switches between past and present, with more time spent on the the past in her days at boarding school. In the present, she is newly married and has her first child, and we get to spend some time observing how her past in anything but forgotten and has continued to affect her in unexpected and potentially detrimental ways. I really appreciated how Eaton crafted this in such a way that really captured how our past choices and decisions or mistakes can sometimes follow us, no matter how we attempt to ignore or erase them, and how real her struggle to make sense of everything is.
My main complaints are that I felt this book at times wasn't sure what sort of atmosphere or style it was going for. The story opens rather ominously and dramatically, and foreboding phrases pop up now and again throughout the story, but there is nothing overly dark or exceptionally melodramatic that occurs. This is certainly not what I would consider a 'light' story and it handles some very important topics and the overall mood is a bit listless and depressed, but it wasn't exactly ominous, which is what the narrative often seems to have been attempting to [promote]. The ending was one that I was satisfied with in how it really brought some things to light and showed the reality of life, but there were one or two storylines that still bothered me and weren't really mentioned again.
I also can't tell yet if this book is going to be entirely forgettable to me or if it's something that will stay with me. I read through this book quickly and wasn't ever really bored, but I also found myself feeling a little as though I'd read this story before, so I think only time will tell how it will age. For now, I've been hovering between 3.75-4 stars, and I think I'll settle on 3.75. If it's something that sticks with me, I can see it being bumped up to a 4. This is an interesting story and I don't think it will be for everyone, but if you enjoy all-girls' boarding school books with a whole slew of rather pretentious and somewhat unlikable characters, then you will probably want to check this one out. Or, if you're simply curious, I'd also say to give a shot.
*I received a copy of The Divines courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the book.*