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The Finishing School

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3.57 of 5 stars 3.57  ·  rating details  ·  557 ratings  ·  33 reviews
Justin Stokes would never forget the summer she turned fourteen, nor the woman who transformed her bleak adolescent life into a wondrous place of brilliant color. In the little pondside hut also known as the “finishing school,” eccentric, free-spirited Ursula DeVane opened up a world full of magical possibilities for Justin, teaching her valuable lessons of love and loyalt ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published April 20th 1999 by Ballantine Books (first published 1984)
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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Even the most precocious adolescent is still essentially a child. It's a gross unfairness and poor judgment on the part of any adult to forget this. This story, in a nutshell, is about the consequences of burdening a youngster with adult confidences, and very nearly expecting grown-up friendship from a fourteen-year-old girl.

If you like to plumb the depths of the psyches of adolescent females, take a gander at Gail Godwin. It takes some patience to read her work, but when she's good, she's good
...more
Lisa
My history with this book has been, well, oh, maybe tenuous. I bought the book shortly after it came out and had been remaindered. The coming of age aspect was appealing, as were the references to Jane Austen and Ford Maddox Ford in the "blurbs." And then, the author had grown up in the Asheville area, a place to which I had just moved. But it sat on my shelf. I may have cracked it open and given it a start once, but maybe not. Eventually, in one of my book pre-BX purges I gave it away. Then a l ...more
Donna McCaul Thibodeau
I read this about twenty years ago and have zero recollection of it, which should have been a clue. Nevertheless, I plowed into it again. It took me almost a week to get through, which was another clue - I never take more than four days to read a book unless I am extremely busy. My main problem with this was that it had a huge buildup to an event that I guessed and also that the main character was not someone that I liked. This one goes on the donate pile.
Phoebe Kate Foster
A modern Greek tragedy. The plot is rather contrived, but it's the vivid characterizations that make this novel mesmerizing to the end. Gail Godwin possesses a unique talent to breathe so much life into her characters that it's a delight to be in their company, no matter what they do or how strained the story line may become.
Diana
After the death of her father 14 year old Justin Stokes, her mother, and six year old brother Jem move from Justin's beloved grandparents' home in Virginia to her Aunt Mona's home in upstate New York. It's here that Justin meets Ursula DeVane a neighbor from a very old Huguenot family. Ursula, a 40 year old woman who has travelled abroad and studied acting becomes a mentor of sorts. She provides color and sophistication to Justin's dull life and lifts her out of her loneliness and longing for he ...more
Hareem
I found the story perhaps too meticulously plotted, everything tucked a little too tidily into a template of the classic Greek tragedy. But Godwin has such a clever turn of phrase and she's develops the characters so thoroughly that the spell doesn’t break throughout the book. How she moves between the memory of a fourteen year old’s events into the sensibility of an older woman’s analysis of these events: that was masterful. I couldn’t put it down. In-fact I've mentally tagged it as a book I mi ...more
Nancy
I came to read "The Finishing School" after having been very impressed with a couple of Godwin's more recent books. This one was impressive in its complexity as well, but not so pleasant to read because we are very early given to understand that a tragic outcome is brewing. According to a definition of "tragedy" quoted by a character in this book, given the personality traits of the characters, the negative outcome could not have been avoided. We are left to wonder who could have turned things a ...more
Deb
Godwin's 1984 novel is about a 14-year-old girl who is infatuated with her 40-something neighbor, the sophisticated Ursula DeVane. Justine Stokes is bored and lonely, having moved to rural New York State with her recently widowed mother. She is instantly smitten with the eccentric Ursula, who encourages the attachment. We know from the beginning of the novel that things do not end well.

I loved this book for the same reason I loved Unfinished Desires (2010). Godwin writes about intelligent women,
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Kurt Keefner
What this novel is, is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie scaled down to two people. Ursula is Miss Brodie and Justin is all of Miss Brodie's female students. Ursula puts on an inauthentic sophistication, just like Miss Brodie, and tries to live through Justin, just as Miss Brodie tried to live through her girls. Justin is impressionable and hero-worships her mentor. There are sexual hijinks afoot (but not lesbianism, in either story). Eventually Justin betrays Ursula, just as one of Miss Brodie's gi ...more
Linda Post
When I went to purchase Godwin's latest book, "Flora: A Novel," one reviewer noted that the latest novel built on the treatment Godwin had given the girl/woman friendship in "The Finishing School." I hadn't even known about "The Finishing School" even though I've read many of Godwin's books. I felt compelled to read this before the latest book. (Meanwhile, I also discovered another of her works, "Queen of the Underworld: A Novel" and had to buy that too!)

Life intervened on several occasions for
...more
Cathryn Conroy
This is the story of one idyllic summer in the 1950s when 14-year-old Justin Stokes wrenchingly moves from her old family home in Fredericksburg, Virginia (after the successive deaths of her beloved grandparents and father) to Clove, New York to a modern, cookie-cutter house in a development populated primarily by IBMers. While riding her bike one day, she meets an eccentric, 40-something woman named Ursula DeVane, and a wonderful, albeit complex, friendship develops, until tragedy rips them apa ...more
Ruth
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Katy
you learn how to trap the yearning and put it where you want it, put it where it goes
Romily
Written in german "Traumtochter"
Kathaileen
This book started by interest in Gail Godwin books. So far it's still my favorite of hers. Justin is a young girl who goes to stay with Ursula for the summer. Ursula is a little eccentric and teaches her to reach out and grow and not become "congealed". Toward the end of the summer Ursula falls off of her pedestal but the whole summer in the "finishing school", a pondside hut, is full of valuable lessons about friendship, mentoring and trust. ...more
Phyllis
An excellent cast of characters. I loved the way Godwin filled you
in on how the characters were thinking...which made you think how
YOU would respond in each situation. I also liked the way Godwin
gave clues as to how the story would end, but I still was very surprised.
Justin made me smile, as I remembered thinking as she did when I was
14. The reader became very involved in the story....I would recommend
this one to all.
Mmars
Both disturbing and depressing. Plus, the voice, maturity & understanding of the 14-yr-old is way too heady/adult. Sorry. And Mott - my God, was he ever unbelievable!!! I could go on - the "passive" and "overweight" friend, the "vapid" mother, etc. So much more could have been done with so many more characters, even as side players. And Ed - absolutely NO personality & he was her first date!!!! Sorry, can't recommend it
Jessica Timmons
Gail Godwin really took an in-dept step into the life of an acting pathological liar. This book had a lot of backwards and forwards which made it hard to keep track of where you were in the main characters life that year. The twist and turns at the end which put Ursula as a woman to look up to suddenly one to frown upon. I rank it up there with the novel "Flora" and one of the best to have read so far.
Chris Demer
This is a beautiful novel, written in the form of a memoir. A forty-something woman looks back on the summer she turned fourteen and the relationship she formed with an eccentric older woman who became for a short season, her mentor. The coming of age of the protagonist is wonderfully nuanced and exceptionally compelling. The factor of betrayal gives the story a grounded, realistic feel.
Rachel Krueger
The book dragged for me at times, and at first I found it a little hard to get involved in, but ended up learning a lot from the characters, and still think about the idea of a human being "congealing," something that has stuck with me ever since I read this book. I would certainly recommend it, particularly as a coming-of-age novel, but I probably won't read it twice.
Judith
After her father's death, 14-year-old Justin and her family move to a rural town where she feels lonely and out-of-place. Her brief relationship with 40-ish Ursula, a cultured and eccentric woman who opens Justin's eyes to life's possibilities, has unexpected and shattering consequences. Beautifully written and engaging with thoughtfully developed characters.
Pamela Blunt
Wonderfully written novel of friendship, betrayal, provincialism and eccentricity.
Yelena Gordiyenko
I liked the book, Gail Godwin is a great writer, though I can't say I liked either of the two main characters very much. They both seemed pretty self-absorbed, though Godwin did a great job of painting them as complex, flawed individuals with good as well as bad qualities.
Angela
I loved this book, and I had several experiences of, "I can't believe an author finally captured that!" while reading it. But it left me profoundly sad for the losses the two main characters suffered--not the deaths, the big losses, but everything they lost between them.
Lesley
I was more than half way in, and I just didn't care. NOTHING happened. It was all a scramble of musings in the protagonist's head. The digital loan expired before I had the interest to get back to it.
Brooks
Gail Godwin is a NC native and a Peace College graduate. We read this book in an english class and I have read it again since. It's very enjoyable with some interesting characters.
Kathy
This book was VERY slow-going. The characters were well-developed but there just wasn't a lot of excitement. Even the exciting parts were subdued. It was alright, just a little slow.
Lynn
Beautifully written, but heavy. Probably so, because it's about a 14 year old girl. Everything seems so weighty at that age.
Beth Yeh
I enjoyed this one. It was another of my "selected by the cover books", but it was an interesting story and I enjoyed it.
Lila
Really 3 1/2--I wish that goodreads had the half star option.
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Gail Kathleen Godwin is an American novelist and short story writer. She has published one non-fiction work, two collections of short stories, and eleven novels, three of which have been nominated for the National Book Award and five of which have made the New York Times Bestseller List.

Godwin's body of work has garnered many honors, including three National Book Award nominations, a Guggenheim Fe
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