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The Finishing School

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  677 Ratings  ·  47 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
Jan 01, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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,
Phoebe Kate Foster
Oct 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
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
May 20, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jul 10, 2016 rated it liked it
I borrowed this book through the online library, Overdrive.

I've never read a book by this author, so this was fresh to me. It was a novel about a woman who is recalling a time in her life when she was 14. The story would spend brief amounts of time with the woman in the present but most of the book was about her fourteen year old self as she navigated through some serious life changes. The author engaged in considerable foreshadowing, so you knew throughout the book that there was unpleasantnes
Cathryn Conroy
Feb 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Laura Hogensen
An eccentric, narcissistic, self-aggrandizing older woman and an isolated malleable adolescent girl. TFS will appeal to fans of Anne Rivers Siddons. It's told retrospectively. There's a central tragedy that the narrator circles around and hints at, but that the reader doesn't discover until the end. Godwin plots this novel elegantly. It's a great addition to the "coming of age" genre, and will be hard to put down. Unlike ARS novels, however, the central reveal/tragedy is far more realistic. No h ...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.
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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
More about Gail Godwin...