Book Reviews

The Divines by Ellie Eaton: ARC Book Review

This is a spoiler-free review.

The Divines by Ellie Eaton

Expected publication January 19th, 2021 by HarperAudio.

My rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Can we ever really escape our past?

The girls of St John the Divine, an elite English boarding school, were notorious for flipping their hair, harassing teachers, chasing boys, and chain-smoking cigarettes. They were fiercely loyal, sharp-tongued, and cuttingly humorous in the way that only teenage girls can be. For Josephine, now in her thirties, the years at St John were a lifetime ago. She hasn’t spoken to another Divine in fifteen years, not since the day the school shuttered its doors in disgrace.

Yet now Josephine inexplicably finds herself returning to her old stomping grounds. The visit provokes blurry recollections of those doomed final weeks that rocked the community. Ruminating on the past, Josephine becomes obsessed with her teenage identity and the forgotten girls of her one-time orbit. With each memory that resurfaces, she circles closer to the violent secret at the heart of the school’s scandal. But the more Josephine recalls, the further her life unravels, derailing not just her marriage and career, but her entire sense of self.

Moving between present-day Los Angeles and 1990s Britain, The Divines is a scorching examination of the power of adolescent sexuality, female identity, and the destructive class divide. Exposing the tension between the lives we lead as adults and the experiences that form us, Eaton probes us to consider how our memories as adults compel us to reexamine our pasts.

Content Warnings: underage drug and alcohol consumption, bullying

Thank you to the publisher, HarperAudio, and NetGalley for providing me an e-ARC of this audiobook. All thoughts are my own.

“The divines” are the epitome of privilege, students at the elite boarding school, St John the Divine, these girls have it all. Equally feared by their teachers as they are hated by the townies where their school is situated, the divines believe themselves to be above all. Consequences can’t touch them.

That is, until Gerry Lake winds up sprawled out on the grass lawn, unresponsive, and rushed to Emergency.

Taking place across two timelines, The Divines tells the story of Josephine – or Jo as she’s referred to during her English boarding school days, and Sephine as she’s referred to forever after. Josephine is determined to separate these two parts of her life, considering herself a different person than who she was all those years ago. But no matter how much she tries to forget, memories of what went down that fateful junior year continue to bombard her, making her question whether people can really change.

Being a huge fan of literary fiction, women’s fiction and coming-of-age tales, throw in the fact I have a soft spot for boarding school stories and unreliable narrators, The Divines was pretty much my ideal book to read. So you can bet how thrilled I was when I was accepted to read and review an audiobook e-arc of this novel on Netgalley!

Maybe it’s just because I’m biased, but I thought The Divines was a fabulous read! Very much in the ‘dark academia’ genre, The Divines includes all the typical tropes one would expect; clique loyalty, peer pressure, classism, and a mysterious death the plot centres around. But where The Divines really thrives is in the way Eaton deconstructs these tropes and critiques them through the lens of her protagonist, Josephine.

Josephine is a deeply unreliable narrator, though it takes time for the reader to realize as much. Watching her lives unravel, simultaneously in both present and past time lines, the reader sees how her teenage insecurity, the pressure she feels to fit in, and her dislike, almost hate, towards those who choose not to, turns to unchecked cruelty, with deadly consequences. I loved how Eaton plays with the character’s different perspectives of the same events, making the reader, and Josephine herself, not able to trust what she remembers.

The only thing stopping me from giving this book a full 5 star review is the fact that I felt like something was missing. In the part of the novel where characters begin to reunite in the present timeline, it seemed like there was a key character reunion missing – one that was even hinted at in the book, but never came to pass. I felt a little cheated of that interaction when I finished the novel; hoping until the very end that it would somehow get included.

And, with two very important characters in this novel turning out to be gay, it just felt like a missed opportunity to not explore that more directly. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Nevertheless, I’m being so picky with my critiques of this novel just because I enjoyed this gritty tale so much. Eaton shows she has a lot of potential as a debut author, and I am very much looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

What great literary fiction novels have you read lately?

Let me know!

Liza is a twenty-something book blogger who spends way too much time with her nose in books and feels way too much. She loves cooking, baking, reality tv show watching and, of course, reading. She can be found most often with a cup of tea in one hand and a book in the other. Her blog, Literary Liza, features bookish content like reviews, recommendations, and author interviews.


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