Author: Enid Blyton (website)
UK Publisher: Hachette Children’s Group
Genre: Children’s books
See Also: First Term At Malory Towers
Darrell, Sally, Gwedoline, Mary-Lou and all the other girls from First Term at Malory Towers are now in the second form and they are all as lively as ever. Mam’zelle Dupont is still trying to be strict, Alicia plays a terrible trick with invisible chalk and Gwendoline and Daphne inevitably get into trouble.
Coming back to Malory Towers a good few months after reading the first one, I was ready and braced for more decent Darrell/Mary-Lou shipping. I was delighted by that unexpected twist when I read the first book, however there wasn’t actually a huge amount in book two. This was because some new characters got introduced (jettisoning the infamous Violet, who was mentioned precisely once in book one with the disclaimer that everyone forgot about her because she was always so quiet, and then never mentioned again), and they took up a bit more of the narrative time.
The first new character, Belinda, is another scatterbrain to match up with Irene (because scatterbrains can only be friends with other scatterbrains, and all scatterbrains are also geniuses). She is an artist, and used primarily as a plot device to demonstrate Alicia’s personality failings rather than for any character development in her own right. I wondered if this was the book where Alicia finally learned to be kinder for good, but apparently that comes later.
There was somewhat less questionable parenting/pastoral care in this book than in book one, but I did wonder about their approach to Ellen, the second new girl and the first scholarship student mentioned in the book. This is probably one of the few times that any sort of specific diversity is mentioned in the books. Ellen spends a lot of time thinking about how much her parents have had to scrape and save to afford to send her to the school, and the stress of making sure she does as well as she can makes her sick. Her storyline mirrored a lot of Sally’s in book one in terms of being sick and snappish because of her illness. Certainly hiding sickness and being isolated because of the bad temper it brings on seems to be a theme in the books, which suggests that perhaps the teachers could be a little more on-the-ball with keeping track of their students’ mental health. There is some nod to this when they realise why Ellen has been so sick, but until it gets to the very worst point, none of the teachers or matrons ask why Ellen panics and seems to get more ill whenever anyone blocks her from catching up with classwork. This perhaps more than anything is probably a sign of the times the book was written in, while Blyton’s own views on other issues can’t be categorised the same way, I think it very likely that mental health wasn’t exactly high on the agenda when Malory Towers was written.
But of course, what we all came for was Mary-Lou and Darrell’s ongoing puppy love. What we get in this book is the delightful jealousy subplot, because Mary-Lou has got a new friend. Friend who she thinks is so beautiful, and whose lovely golden hair she lies in bed and thinks about at night. But Darrell gets quite cross about the whole thing, claiming that Daphne is only using Mary-Lou and doesn’t really appreciate her. Mary-Lou then rightfully calls Darrell out on her bullshit saying that Darrell only puts up with her out of the goodness of her heart. That’s what it is. Sure. (For some delightful screenshots, I added some more to my twitter thread.) Also, Darrell, stop ragging on Mary-Lou for being a wimp, she was literally the only one to get stuff done in the last book and she saved your bacon more than once.
Anyway, while Mary-Lou spends her time dreaming about how lovely Daphne is, it turns out that Daphne is actually up to something, as a serial liar and kleptomaniac. I’ve been watching a lot of Leverage lately, Daphne is a stone cold grifter and is pulling it off fabulously. Of course that aesthetic doesn’t quite fit with Blyton’s morality, which I suppose is fair enough. It’s fortunate that all Daphne needed to reform her thieving ways is a true friend who liked her without any guile or ulterior motive. A true friend like Mary-Lou.
I’m excited to see what the next book brings. I expect yet another girl dropping down with the flu because she can’t bring herself to admit she’s sick and no-one else realising despite this apparently happening every term.
- Perhaps a little repetitive over book one, there are similar themes (bad temper hiding sickness, setting someone else up for a fall over crimes…), but it’s still good fun.
- There are some interesting statements on class in this, although they’re never examined closely. Ellen is a scholarship student whose parents have had to really scrimp to afford her uniform and equipment, while Daphne steals because she feels her parents aren’t as rich as she would like. It’s interesting that both of these girls turn to rule-breaking and stealing to get by, although for very different reasons, although both are given the opportunity to “reform”. Smarter people than I have probably given this more thought.
- Violet – the girl mentioned precisely once in the first book as being so quiet people forgot she was there – is given no mentions at all in this book. Presumably she went to a school where people don’t habitually forget about her when she is RIGHT THERE.
Rating: 3/5 – there’s a lot of repetition from book one, and most of the time is spent introducing new characters. I think there’s a new character every book from now on, which raises some questions about the student turnover at the school.