Book Review: The Académie

20 Feb

Title: The Académie

Author: Susanne Dunlap

Genre: Historical Fiction YA

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Published: February 28, 2012

Challenge: YA Historical Fiction Challenge

Source: NetGalley

Summary: Eliza Monroe—daughter of the future president of the United States—is devastated when her mother decides to send her to boarding school outside of Paris. But the young American teen is quickly reconciled to the idea when—ooh, la-la!—she discovers who her fellow pupils will be: Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of Josephine Bonaparte; and Caroline Bonaparte, youngest sister of the famous French general. It doesn’t take long for Eliza to figure out that the two French girls are mortal enemies—and that she’s about to get caught in the middle of their schemes.

Loosely drawn from history, Eliza Monroe’s imagined coming of age provides a scintillating glimpse into the lives, loves, and hopes of three young women during one of the most volatile periods in French history.

THE ACADÉMIE has a solid premise, friends, and it takes place during one of the more interesting–and one of my personal favorite–historical periods: Napoleonic France. I LOVE reading about the society and the politics and how basically the Bonapartes sound kind of like a stereotypical mafia family, except with less murder and more political scheming. There’s so much SCANDAL about them, guys, and that makes them JUICY to read about. And for the most part, reading about Napoleon’s sister, Caroline, step-daughter, Hortense, and their school friend Eliza Monroe, was interesting in a history nerd way. But THE ACADÉMIE didn’t quite meet my expectations. *Sad face*

I’ll start with the things I liked. The historical setting is awesome. I just love this time period! And really, reading about Napoleon and his immediate family as well as his wife and step-children and the way they interact with each other is fascinating and backstabby and brimming with barely-veiled distaste. I wish we had gotten a bit more of this, to be honest, but there was lots of good family politics in THE ACADÉMIE.

The pacing improved after the half-way point, when things really started happening. There’s lots of plans and action and THINGS going on. All of the plot threads start to weave together. It might have seemed still a little scattered and hasty, but it was more exciting than the first half, which I thought lagged a bit.

There were also some very likable characters, too: Eugene, Hortense’s brother, was very endearing and sweet. I wish we could have seen more of him. He seemed a little more well-rounded than some other characters, who came off kind of flat to me. And I enjoyed reading about the Bonapartes, especially Napoleon’s mother, who seemed like a major beyotch. I think it would have been fun to see her a little bit more as well. Madeleine, the young actress living with her MONSTROUS mother, was an empathetic character who wound up having quite a bit of mettle.

Alas, all of these things that I liked couldn’t really make up for some other things that I didn’t like as much. For instance, our girl Eliza. Eliza is IRRITATING. Also superficial, snobby, childish, and kind of ridiculous. Granted, she’s only 14, and props for having her ACT her age, but she still made me roll my eyes A LOT. It was hard to connect with her when she’s being a brat to the servants and basically hoping that something scandalous will happen so that she can go write a letter about it to her mother.

Hortense is a good character, but kind of flat, and some of the things she gets herself into were either weird (her mildly uncomfortable relationship with her step-father) or seemed out of character for her (her attachment to Michel, and her role in her brother Eugene’s relationship). But I certainly empathized with Hortense. Caroline, on the other hand, seemed to be a little bit more well-rounded, what with her love for her brother’s general, Murat. But mostly she was the bad guy. There was a little confusion at the end there, when she seemed to turn around a little bit, but then I think we were supposed to assume that she had only been faking her turn to the good side? I’m not sure. In any case, she didn’t have a very likable personality, which I usually have no problem with. Lots of times villains are the most intriguing characters, but something about Caroline just made her seem manipulative and mean. Boo.

Things happen, too, as the book winds down but they never seem fleshed out somehow. Or smoothly connected. There’s so much time devoted in the beginning to meeting the characters, who I didn’t find particularly likable or interesting in both the sense of personality and/or characterization, that by the time we make it half way through and the story starts picking up steam, there isn’t really enough time left to give each event its proper due.

Perhaps most disappointingly, the romances were really…blah.  Mostly because we saw almost literally NOTHING of them. I KNOW, RIGHT? So sad. There was mention of a kiss with tongue that occurred in the past (we didn’t see it) and a chaste kiss that wasn’t even meant to be romantic between two people OTHER than one of the established couples. THAT’S IT. For all that I thought the book would have more of the romances in it because it’s really those romances that drive the culminating action, they were pretty flat. I felt nothing for them. This was a bummer to me both because I felt like they wound up being important enough to warrant more attention than they got and because I felt the lack of sexytimes MAJORLY.

Overall, there were certainly entertaining aspects of THE ACADÉMIE, and I LOVED reading about Napoleonic Paris. The ending picked up the pace and flew by, which was great. And the events of the last half of the book were dramatic. But I had such high expectations for this book and, unfortunately, it didn’t quite meet them. There were seeds of great things–complicated romances, difficult family relationships–but nothing seemed to fully flesh out. I hope you guys will read THE ACADÉMIE, though, and tell me what you think!


15 Responses to “Book Review: The Académie”

  1. Lisa! (@heylisarenee) February 20, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    Bummer, dude. I hear you though with books having SO much potential, and then just not clicking for you. Bah.

    This does sound like an awesome time period, though!

    • trippingbooks February 20, 2012 at 10:43 pm #

      It was a great time period! It wasn’t bad at all, but I had hoped it would be better, you know?

  2. Candice February 20, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    This really is one time period that I’ve never read anything about. Seriously, I know nothing of the Napoleonic era. Which seems a little sad now that I think about it… That stinks that the book fell short though. It sounded really promising based on the summary and who doesn’t like a good boarding school full of snarky society girls? Oh well I guess… at least you got to read about a fun era! 🙂

    • trippingbooks February 20, 2012 at 10:49 pm #

      Right?! I mean, boarding school and rich mean girls! But if I have a hankering for Napoleonic era books, I’m running for my Pink Carnation books!

  3. Katie February 20, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    Well, shoot! With a cover like that I’d for sure imagine that there’d be a little more romance. Thanks for an honest review!

    • trippingbooks February 20, 2012 at 10:49 pm #

      I know, I thought so, too. Especially because it’s even mentioned in the summary! But I thought they were kind of absent 😦

  4. Leah @ The Pretty Good Gatsby February 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    Oh man, how disappointing! I had really high hopes for this book! The period is still so fascinating though.

    • trippingbooks February 20, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

      Me too! I hope you’ll still give it a shot, though!

  5. reutreads February 20, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    I didn’t know a lot about this before I got an ARC–but 14 year old MC? This looks like a steamy romance novel. That cover… I think covers like this give YA a bad name.

    • trippingbooks February 20, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

      When I think about it that way, it does seem a little misleading, although Eliza–the 14-year-old–is only one of three characters who have alternating point-of-view chapters. The other two girls are 16-17, I think.

  6. April Books&Wine February 21, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

    I’m still looking forward to The Academie, so that kind of makes me sad that it wasn’t the best ever for you, but at least there were some good aspects to it. And I do love geeking out over history.

    • trippingbooks February 21, 2012 at 11:15 pm #

      I hope you like it April! I was definitely a little bummed when I finished it 😦 Good but not great.

  7. Allison (Allure of Books) February 26, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    I love the historical period too – but I’m definitely wary of irritating characters and blah romance now.

    Bummer that this one didn’t work!


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