The Education of Bet was a quick, delightful read with likable characters and a sweet romance that no doubt put a big dopey grin on my face the entire time I was reading this book. I couldn’t help but admire the main character Bet’s spunk and determination to attend a school and receive a higher education despite the many obstacles that stood in her way, one being that she is a woman. Bet has the misfortune of being born in a time when women were not afforded the same opportunities as men. However, when she learns that her closest friend Will desires to join the army instead of attending the Betterman Academy, Bet devises a plan to take his place, allowing them both to pursue their dreams. This little adventure would not be possible of course, if both Bet and Will didn’t share some physical characteristics and if their guardian, Will’s great uncle, weren’t almost completely blind. After much preparation, Bet is on her way to learning Latin, mathematics, and how to convince a bunch of teenage boys that she is every bit the man that she claims to be.
One of the highlights of this novel is the relationship between Bet and her roommate James. Both are oddities at this school, content to study or read during their leisure time when most boys would be drinking, smoking, or brawling. James sees in Bet someone he can really talk with and relate to, while Bet finds in James a companion whose honest and loyal friendship has made living with a bunch of unruly boys bearable even in the worst of times. However as their bond grows stronger, Bet comes to the realization that what she feels for James is more than just mere friendship. Her relationship with her floor mates by comparison is nowhere near as congenial or civilized. While Bet may look a great deal like Will, she is still a bit smaller and more feminine than most of the other boys. This makes her a target for bullies and I must say, given her unique circumstances, she handled their bullying admirably and with a sense of humor.
As much as I enjoyed this book, the truth is that everything was tied up a little too neatly in the end. When a girl is masquerading as a boy at an all boy school, certain problems or obstacles are bound to arise. Changing clothes in front of other boys, dealing with her monthly cycle, and playing in full contact sports are just some of the issues that Bet must deal with in the course of this tale. What I found to be the most frustrating was that all of these obstacles were explained away rather easily and created very little conflict for the main character. It is expected in stories such as these that one or two people are bound to discover the main character’s true identity and when this inevitably happens in Education of Bet, I was surprised by how easily these people accepted her situation. The reaction to Bet being a girl was met with either shrugged shoulders or encouragement. I don’t know about all of you, but if I found out that a girl was masquerading as a boy at an all boy school I would feel a tad bit concerned for her well being, especially given the time period that this story takes place in! If it weren’t for the short length of this novel and the lack of any real conflict, I would have rated this book a little higher.
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars