Boarding school + Eva Ibbotson=book basically written for me. The first Ibbotson book I read was A Song for Summer, and I adored it. Really loved it. When I picked up this and started reading it I thought “hmm…this is so much like Song for Summer”, then I read the author’s info and I realized that they are similar because they are similar to the author’s own story: growing up in Austria, fleeing the Nazis, attending a bizarre progressive boarding school.
In this story Tally leaves her adoring father and aunts in London to attend Delderton, a strange boarding school. She doesn’t want to leave but her father fears that bombing is not far off and he wants her safe in the country. The scholarship offer is too good to pass up. What Tally and her father don’t know is that Delderton is not a traditional British boarding school. Instead it is a place where children discover their own talents and interests, swim in the nude, attend classes only if they feel like it, wake up at 4am to experience nature, and more. Tally soon realizes that this is the perfect place for her.
One day she sees a short film about the country Bergania, and its king’s opposition to Hitler. She admires the king tremendously and when Delderton is invited to attend a folk dance festival in Bergania, she lobbies for the students to travel there and participate. And so begins an incredible adventure involving the prince, Nazis, subterfuge, compassion, and loyalty. Oh, it is wonderful. Really satisfying and terrific. The only quibble I have is with the cover. Ibbotson writes these gorgeous thoughtful historical novels and she also writes these wonderful whimsical fantasy type books (Secret of Platform 13, Island of the Aunts). Some of those have illustrations by Kevin Hawke (a super illustrator, don’t get me wrong) and I feel that the two types of book are so different that there should be a totally different picture style on the cover. This cover does not at all convey what is between the covers.