Inspired by a drug-bust at a prep school in the 1980's, Nina de Gramont's debut novel takes a look at friendship, peer pressure, and the lasting consequences of adolescence. Gossip of the Starlings is a coming-of-age novel about Catherine Morrow's troubled friendship with her schoolmate, the famous Skye Butterfield. When Skye walks into the Esther Percy School for Girls, lonely Catherine is surprised and pleased to find a friend. Skye has been sheltered her whole life and she's ready to break free. Her chosen methods are destructive and she doesn't care if she brings Catherine down with her.
This is actually an adult book but I think that is has appeal for teens. It's told from the point of view of Catherine when she is an adult. Maybe 30ish? Catherine's story is told with equal parts jaded maturity and bright-eyed youthfulness. As I was reading Gossip of the Starlings, I knew that Skye was a bad influence but I felt myself becoming seduced by her words as much as Catherine was. Skye made being bad seem like so much fun. Nina de Gramont perfectly captures what is like to be an adolescent on the verge of adulthood--the pressure to succeed, to conform, and the yearning to stay young. I think Skye describes it best when she says,
"That's how I feel sometimes. Like there's this language I knew when I was a kid, and every year of my life it unravels just a little bit. Becomes more and more indecipherable. So that I'm left all alone, trying to figure it out." (page 85)There are other mitigating factors than Skye's self-destruction in this story. Catherine's adult role models include husbands who cheat on their wives, senators who break promises, and a president with his finger hovering over a bomb. The novel is set during the Cold War and the characters are desperately trying to make sense of a world that is out of control. Why take responsibility for their actions when the adults around them showed a flagrant disregard for the rules?
"We understood that nobody would save the world. It would have to find a way to survive on its own." (Page 154)I didn't grow up during the Cold War. I can only imagine what it would be like to live in constant fear of nuclear attack. De Gramont uses these feelings of fear and hopelessness to show that her characters, though flawed, were trying their best to cope with a world they couldn't understand.
That's the long review.
The short review? Read this book. It is haunting, it is engrossing, it is lively, it is tragic, it is good.