Title: THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S
Author: Lee Gjertsen Malone
Category & Genre: Middle-grade Contemporary
Publish Date: Out now!
Blurb: Jeremy is the last boy remaining at an all-girls school.
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥ out of 5
I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
To me, one of the greatest struggles faced by children’s fiction is the limiting dichotomy of “boy books” versus “girl books.” Especially in the middle-grade sphere, this strict gender exclusivity—most noticeably on the matter of boys being rarely asked or required to read narratives told by girl characters—leaves out a whole slew of important perspectives to younger readers. When our media is dominated by male stories featuring token female characters, the female perspective becomes, naturally, tokenized; and by extension, rendered unimportant.
But Malone has done something quite clever in the writing of THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S, and takes a good-natured pot shot at this standard, tokenized, dichotomous narrative. ST. EDITH’S is a “boy” book, if we’re going to use those terms—only in the sense that our hero is a boy. And this feature of the novel will, I hope, attract boy readers in droves.
Because ST. EDITH’S is also subversive in that way. Though the social subtleties are handsomely disguised by humor, really, it’s a book about the infinite complexity of girls.
Years ago, a private school for girls experimented with going co-ed. But St. Edith’s had a reputation for being dull and straight-edge, and few boys actually transferred in. The co-ed program died out not long after it began.
Now the few boys left at St. Edith’s have reached the seventh grade, and the second-to-last boy in the whole student body has finally transferred out—leaving Jeremy Miner the sole boy remaining in the entire school for a whole two more years.
It may sound like a dream-come-true to some, but the fact that he’s the very last boy looms large in Jeremy’s mind. His father, his only male role model, has already skipped town on a research boat. He can’t stand spending day in and day out surrounded by only girls any longer… except that his mom, who works at St. Edith’s, won’t let him transfer.
So Jeremy and his best friend Claudia conceive a plan to get him expelled from school by pulling pranks.
Malone writes our unfortunate hero, and the pranks that he and Claudia conjure up to secure his expulsion, with wit, honesty, and a keen sense of irony. It’s not easy being surrounded entirely by women (both at home and at school), and Jeremy is understandably beginning to resent what he interprets as loneliness. But Malone is a skillful writer, and soon we’re forced to wonder: will getting expelled and being sent to the neighboring public school—with its frightening reputation—actually solve Jeremy’s problem? Is being the only boy really the source of his existential angst?
Each of Malone’s characters are bright, complicated, and fully rendered. No one is tokenized, no one fits a formula, and the twists in character almost overshadow the twists in plot. But what I love most about THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S is how it seems to be a book about standing out and fitting in… when really it’s a novel about taking for granted the gifts that are right in front of you.
If I had a genie, I would wish for ten more books like ST. EDITH’S.