About the book
If no one notices Marya Lupu, it’s likely because of her brother, Luka. And that’s because of what everyone knows: Luka is destined to become a sorcerer.
The Lupus might be from a small village far from the capital city, but that doesn’t matter. Every young boy born in Illyria may possess the rare ability to wield magic, to protect the country from the terrifying force known only as the Dread. For all the hopes the family has for Luka, no one has any for Marya, who can never seem to do anything right. But even so, no one is prepared for the day that the sorcerers finally arrive to test Luka for magical ability, and Marya makes a terrible mistake. Nor the day after, when the Lupus receive a letter from a place called Dragomir Academy — a mysterious school for wayward young girls. Girls like Marya.
Soon she is a hundred miles from home, in a strange and unfamiliar place, surrounded by girls she’s never met. Dragomir Academy promises Marya and her classmates a chance to make something of themselves in service to one of the country’s powerful sorcerers. But as they learn how to fit into a world with no place for them, they begin to discover things about the magic the men of their country wield, as well as the Dread itself — things that threaten the precarious balance upon which their country is built.
Why I read the book
Anne Ursu has been one of my favorite middle grade writers since Breadcrumbs, and I was really excited for The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy. So I leapt on the chance to be part of the blog tour!
The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy is a great middle grade fantasy, set in a world inspired by Eastern Europe. It’s a nice example of empowering feminist fiction for a middle grade audience, especially because of the complexity and nuance portrayed.
For me, the first quarter or so of the story was a fairly harrowing read! Poor Marya keeps trying to do what’s expected of her, but something goes wrong every time. In the end, she’s sent to Dragomir Academy for Troubled Girls. The book doesn’t shy away from the feelings of loss, isolation, and grief that Marya experiences as her home, her family, and her future are ripped away from her.
One of the early notes I made was about the portrayal of Marya’s mother. Her expectations for Marya drive much of her daughter’s lack of self-worth. In that sense, she’s an antagonist for much of the story, but we also see that she’s driven by genuine concern for Marya’s future. This is a world in which girls have very, very few approved choices and she knows that Marya doesn’t really fit into any of them.
At the same time, the story counterbalances Marya’s absent father and overbearing mother with Madame Bandu, a kind neighbor who tries to offer Marya a way out in the form of an apprenticeship. Madame Bandu is an expert tapestry weaver and she teaches Marya a secret language that’s hidden in plain sight. I can’t tell you how much I loved this! So often feminist books for young girls denigrate traditionally feminine arts, such as needlework and cooking. In this case, Marya isn’t truly drawn to create tapestries and embroidery, but she respects the skill and the history of the art.
As I read, I really felt that all of the characters and Marya’s relationship with them were considered with care and nuance. While as an adult reader, I sometimes winced at her hopeful trust that a particular character would listen to her, I also understood why she made the choices she did. And that was true, not only for Marya, but for the people around her. In larger part, this story is focused on the way that systems force people into unhappy choices, rather than blaming other girls for what they do.
Without wanting to give away too much, I also very much liked the way that Luka, Marya’s brother, changes over the course of the story. Their relationship feels impossibly set in the roles that they’ve been assigned at first. As they break out of the mold and discover who they really are, they also have the opportunity to reach out and support each other.
Don’t miss it! October 26 at 6 pm CT Anne Ursu will be in conversation with Kelly Barnhill, hosted by WILD RUMPUS BOOKS in Minneapolis.
Please click here for more information.
About the Author:
Anne Ursu is the author of the acclaimed novels The Lost Girl, Breadcrumbs, and The Real Boy, which was longlisted for the National Book Award. The recipient of a McKnight Fellowship Award in Children’s Literature, Anne is also a member of the faculty at Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She lives in Minneapolis with her family and an ever-growing number of cats. You can visit her online at www.anneursu.com.
BLOG TOUR STOPS
October 12 A Nerdy Bibliophile in Wanderlust
October 13 Read Wonder
October 14 Nerdy Book Club
October 15 A Library Mama
October 16 Maria’s Mélange
October 17 By Singing Light
October 18 Bluestocking Thinking
October 20 Insatiable Readers