The Education of Bet, by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, was published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin.
When Will and Bet were four, tragic circumstances brought them to the same house, to be raised by a wealthy gentleman as brother and sister. Now sixteen, they appear content with the life fate has bestowed upon them. But appearances can be deceiving. Bet can experience only what society allows for a girl. Will is afforded much more freedom, but still only as society dictates. Neither is happy. So Bet comes up with a plan and persuades Will to give it a try: She’ll go to school as Will. Will can live as he chooses. But when she arrives at school, the reality doesn’t match what Bet imagined. Boys act very differently when they don’t think there’s a girl in their midst. In fact, they can be rather brutish. But brutish Bet can deal with. It’s the stirrings of attraction for her roommate that get Bet into real trouble. This is not the education Bet expected.
I can’t believe there was once a time when I thought the “girl who dresses up as a boy” trope was interesting. Bloody Jack is the only book I’ve read recently where I don’t mind it. I might have enjoyed it more in The Education of Bet if that trope wasn’t paired with the “disguised girl falls in love with roommate/best friend/person who thinks she’s a boy leading to awkward situations” as well as a completely obvious plot twist that I could see coming from the first chapter of the book.
I liked Bet well enough as a character, and the odd things she says in disguise are pretty fun, but the disguise plot with the addition of the “rebel against society” trope was enough to make me regret reading it almost as soon as I started. Luckily, the book is relatively short, and the parts at school really aren’t all that bad even if they’re a little stereotypical.
I can see some people loving The Education of Bet if they really like the premise of it. It’s a classic “girl is frustrated at lack of freedom society gives her, so she Decides To Do Something About It and disguises herself as a boy to get an “education” (although Bet is far from uneducated, so pretty much she just wants to do What The Boys Are Doing) and then falls in love with her roommate, surprise surprise” plot, and that does appeal to some people—but not me.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Bet stuffs some socks down her pants, gets groped by prostitutes, and then canoodles with her boyfriend/love interest.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
“Can I get you something before I go?” he asked, at last tying his tie. Thank God! “Perhaps some plain toast or a cup of tea? I could ask Mrs. Smithers—”
“I’ll be fine,” I snapped, cutting him off. “Really, by second lesson, I’ll be right as rain.”
He studied me for a moment, as though I were a curiosity.
“Huh,” he said finally. “It must be a wonderful thing, knowing the exact moment one will be well again.”