Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Finishing School Book Review

The Finishing School Book Review
I enjoyed Joanna Goodman's The Home for Unwanted Girls enough to seek out and read this book, The Finishing School. At first I did not really understand what Goodman meant by 'finishing school.' Of course, once I discovered that the book was about events in a boarding school I realized that I should have understood. Since then, some friends have told me that they understand the term finishing school while others have drawn a blank when I told them the title of this book.

Anyway, The Finishing School is the story of a group of children and the adventures and tragedies that befall them at school and of their lives afterward. It is the story of families that shipped their children off to school and sometimes left them to be mostly raised by strangers in a strange country. It is the story of how a private school sought to protect its reputation by failing to properly investigate a number of serious incidents.

The narrative of the story flips easily back and forth between the modern day and the late 1990s and is set both at a fictional boarding school called Lycée Internationale Suisse in Switzerland and in Canada. Haunted by them, one of the girls returns to Switzerland as a young woman to uncover the truth about the events that unfolded during her time there.

It turns out that the story is much more complicated than that of the single incident that brings the young woman back to Switzerland and as it unfolds you will find yourself hoping that this is a totally fictional story though, of course, you know that events like those that unfolded at this school have happened and do happen in real life.

The author says that the story is based on her own real life experiences at a boarding school when she was 17 years old. She says that, like the main character in this novel, she was a fish out of water. She was a middle class student surrounded by children of the wealthy, a group that included members of royal families and children of international superstars. She also says that the stories in the book came from real ‘secrets and scandals’ that happened in the year she was there. As a matter of fact, she says that her real life best friend at boarding school was in the same situation as the best friend of the main character in this novel. The author explains that she used the events of that year to create this story of “entitlement, of the power of beauty and status, and of the relentless pursuit of approval that afflicts even the wealthy.” She says that this “book is inspired by real people and events, but is (mostly) fiction.” 

There are some plot twists in this story, one large one that had me wondering if I had missed something or misread something. I guess it jarred a bit and, to be honest, that twist almost put me off reading this book but I did not put it down and yes, I would recommend this book. It a mystery about relationships both of the family and friendship variety and about the life of the wealthy and the world of the boarding school. It deals with pregnancy, both unwanted and wanted.  It definitely has some unpleasantness in it but it is handled well, especially in how the victims come forward in a way that seems particularly timely.

If you read The Finishing School, be sure to come back and let us know what you think. You can find your copy on Amazon right here.

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Treasures By Brenda

Quick Links:

Order your copy of The Finishing School from Amazon here.
Find a list of questions for your book club meeting here. 
Find my review of The Home for Unwanted Girls here.

Book Details:

Title: The Finishing School
Author: Joanna Goodman
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
Page Count: 352
Format: Available in Kindle, audiobook, paperback and audio CD formats.
ISBN-10: 0062465589
ISBN-13: 978-0062465580

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate, Ebay (EPN) and/or Esty (Awin) Affiliate, I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


  1. I have never liked the idea of a boarding school or a finishing school simply because I don't think strangers will ever care as much about our children as we do. It also doesn't surprise me that incidents would be covered up to protect the reputation of the boarding school. It sounds like a book that any parent who is considering a boarding school for their child, should read. The fact that the events in the book have some basis in truth is very sad indeed, but also why it should be read.

    1. I think the heads of boarding schools have a duty to be extra vigilant and make sure these situations do not have the opportunity to occur rather than turn and look the other way.

  2. During ages 9-12 I attended the Lycée Français de New York. (My teachers had recommended my skipping a grade or two to keep me challenged, but my mother had skipped two grades and didn’t want me to suffer the same problems she had had when going to school with older and more emotionally and socially mature kids than herself.) While it was neither a boarding school nor a finishing school, the Lycée Français de New York certainly was like another world. Most of the other kids were native French speakers and fluently bilingual, and most of their parents were expatriate ambassadors or international corporate executives. In the 1960s, at least, the students were discouraged from asking questions in class and most of the “learning” was actually Just memorization. We had no respect from the teachers and no rights. It was totally different from my prior and subsequent experiences in American schools. I can well believe that this book was based on real-life events.

  3. You touch on an important point, Margaret. I think children have to have the right and comfort to speak up. Thanks for your visit.

  4. I've often wondered why any parent who cares about their children would send them away to be raised by strangers. It has to be a situation that is very difficult on the child(ren). I can see children attending a private school if the parents can afford it, but not a boarding (finishing) school. The parents cannot know if wrong things happen while the children are at the school and parents themselves are in danger of becoming strangers to their own children having them live away from home. This sounds like an interesting book and, as Mouse stated, any parent considering sending their child to a boarding school should read this book before deciding.

  5. Oh my this hit a nerve. My mother went to a finishing school in Switzerland during the late 1940's. She doesn't talk about it much other than to say her father wanted her to become a young lady. She was more than a bit of a tomboy. I think that this book should make it's way up my list of "must reads" if only to open up some conversations with my mother.

  6. Brenda, thank you for this review. I'm adding this to my to-read list right now.

  7. This book sounds excellent, you have me wanting to read it! I'm intrigued about the details that happened. I'd honestly watch a made for TV movie of this!

  8. Excellent review! We had a Lycée Français not far from me when we lived in our first home in Culver City. We lived down the street from the MGM Studio lot. I didn't know much about the school except that supposedly they spoke French. I have no idea if it was a boarding school. We hadn't been married long and schools were pretty far from our minds.

    I once lived in a boarding school for two weeks. It was when I was a day student there and my mom wanted to accompany my dad on a business trip. It was the most miserable experience of my life. I was only in second grade and it was my first time away from home. I was the only one at the school who was only there for one semester and I had only one friend among the day students -- the daughter of my mom's friend who recommended she enroll me there to learn the phonics I wasn't getting in public school. Fortunately for me, my Cousin Edna, who was like a grandmother to me, lived nearby and she took me home with her on the weekend and we did some special things together. Other than that it was the most miserable I'd ever been. It's not that people were mean. It's just that I was the outsider rather than having the attention I normally got as an adored only child. I wouldn't recommend boarding school to anyone.

  9. It disturbs me to read about unwanted things that happen to children/young adults. If there is sexual abuse, that would be extremely troubling. As a teacher who has had a long career protecting students, and who has not been afraid to report wrong-doings, I get very upset by anything that hurts kids. I think this book would be too unsettling for me. Thank you for introducing us to it.


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