In "The Vicount's Daughter," the third novel in Caitlyn Duffy's excellent Treadwell Academy series, we actually spend most of the book on the Treadwell campus, experiencing the dorms, teen-girl cruelty, and most of all, opportunity for growth.
"The Viscount's Daughter" follows Betsey Norfleet, whom we met in book one, "The Rock Star's Daughter." In the first book, she was a 14-year-old wild child, running in her glamorous sister Bijoux's shadow. Betsey and Bijoux convinced Taylor (book one's heroine) to go out for a wild afternoon, which ended up with much alcohol consumption and misbehavior, and ended up getting Taylor grounded.
The Viscount is Bijoux and Betsey's stepfather, Danko, a handsome yet cold Croatian man. Every summer, Bijoux and Betsey are required to jet off to Croatia to spend "family time" at Danko's ancestral home. The girls run wild--especially Bijoux, of course--spending days on the beaches and nights in bars. It's the seemingly carefree life of extremely wealthy teens. Plus, Betsey loves spending time with her step-cousins, Kristijan and his kid sister, Magda. Betsey and Kristijan share a comfortable closeness; he even "jokes" that he is Betsey's boyfriend. Croatian summers are lots of fun...
Except for one small secret: since Betsey was 12, Danko has subjected her to some occasional inappropriate behavior. It's mostly little things that were just ookey more than anything, things that might have been accidents, or possibly explained away as cultural differences. The summer when Betsey's 14, something happens that crosses the line completely. From that moment forward, Betsey is determined to get away from her stepfather.
Bijoux and Betsey's father happens to play bass in Pound, the band fronted by Taylor's father. Betsey has always been a mediocre student, but she devises a plot to get thrown out of her expensive Manhattan girls school, and be "sent away" to Taylor's boarding school. She needs distance from her stepfather and career-obsessed, oblivious mother, and she needs a friend. She thinks Treadwell Academy is the place for her, and that Taylor can be the friend she needs.
Betsey finesses an "accident" in her chemistry class. Another girl is injured, and Betsey is invited to leave her Manhattan school. Step one works. Next is getting into Treadwell. There's a daunting entrance exam, and Betsey crams to catch up with the studies she's been blowing off for years.
She ekes by, and soon finds herself on the way to Treadwell. When she gets there, she realizes she's being tossed into a society wherein she knows nobody. Taylor is a year ahead of her, so they don't share any classes. Worse still, Taylor still holds a grudge about all the trouble she got in over the summer.
What Betsey finds at Treadwell is a world in which she can succeed based on her own merits. No longer does she have to live in Bijoux's shadow; no longer does she have to settle for her mother's fleeting attention, or her stepfather's menacing presence. When she realizes how far behind she is, she hires tutors to help her catch up. She finds that she's able to work hard and achieve things on her own.
Eventually, she and Taylor do become close, and Taylor invites Betsey to accompany her to Madrid over Christmas. Taylor's junior symphony is performing a nine-day concert tour, and Taylor is excited because her boyfriend Todd will be there on a school trip of his own. Betsey's excuse for going is that Taylor will be there, but mostly, Kristijan is studying design in Madrid. It's an excuse for Betsey to see Kristijan, as well as to put herself 4000 miles away from her stepfather.
During the trip, some unexpected things happen, which I won't spoil, but "The Viscount's Daughter" has an excellent final act.
I have to admit, this book didn't hook me at first. Betsey was static, still locked in her "Bijoux's sidekick" role. Where it got me was watching Betsey grow as a person. She went from being an apathetic underachiever to being a strong young woman with a good sense that actions have consequences. She's never cared whether she got thrown out of another girls school, but with the hard work she puts in, being kicked out of Treadwell would devastate her.
Betsey makes friends on her own, too: some nerds, some beautiful people. She learns that she has value as a person in her own right, not just as Bijoux's little sister, or her mother's daughter. The confidence with which she faces her pre-Christmas final exams shows an ocean of difference between the ditzy girl at the beginning of the book, and the mature young woman at the end.
In addition to Taylor (from book one), we see a few other characters we've met during the previous books. Nothing big--they don't have a "Treadwell Academy Character Club" or anything, of course--but in the course of Betsey's day, her life comes tangent to others.
This series is addictive, even if the main characters are different in each installment. The overlapping storylines, all tied around this posh girls boarding school, leaves tons of potential for future books. I hope Caitlyn Duffy keeps writing them.
This book is listed for ages 12 and up, and that seems about right. There are some dark undertones, though, of emotional and physical abuse. Nothing graphic, really, but some things could be a little creepy for some younger readers.
Mostly, this is a positive story about a young woman discovering the strength and value within herself, independent of anyone. It's a story most definitely worth reading.