Flawless Girls

A girl thrust into an eerily impeccable finishing school must unravel the madness beneath its glimmering façade in Flawless Girls, an exquisitely crafted YA tale about the prescribed bounds of femininity by Anna-Marie McLemore (Lakelore; Mirror Season).

The Alarie House, a renowned finishing school, trains its girls to exhibit unyielding grace. Seventeen-year-old Latina Isla Soler left after one day. But her older sister, Renata, finished her schooling and returned home "polished to a shine." This "doll version" of Renata frightens Isla with how completely she has "forgotten her own sharp, glittering heart," and with how something like rage flickers behind her eyes. Isla, desperate to undo Renata's metamorphosis, re-enrolls at the Alarie House.

Isla learns little through the onslaught of daily comportment lessons, but the strangeness of night welcomes her. After dark, atop the roof of a place gilded in the legend of its utter refinement, is something wild. Girls dance carelessly, their postures broken from their daytime wine-stem rigidity. They scream, teeth glinting like diamonds. Isla is shown the same unhinged ferocity she'd glimpsed in Renata--one she senses rising within herself.

Flawless Girls splits storied notions of proper femininity--and gender itself--apart at the seams in an exemplary portrait of learning to express oneself. The horror in the book lies in the house's absurd beauty, in the girls' untamed nights never discussed by day, in unreal fragments of experience that deflect Isla's questions. McLemore's signature prose both cuts like ice and rolls languidly off the tongue. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

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