Nona York, prolific elderly romance author, hires Rebecca Devere as a temporary assistant. Becky has just moved to Isadora Island with her mother, Denise, who has a troubled emotional history. Becky discovers in Nona’s room a child’s school desk inscribed “Wavril” and a box labeled “Sexual Scrabble, a game for lovers,” both of which pique her curiosity.
Soon we are dropped into the past, when in 1939, fourteen-year-old Waverley Scott arrives at Isadora Island to attend Temple School, where North American girls are transformed into “women of the future” through a unique curriculum. Waverley’s experiences at Temple will shape the rest of her life. The relationship of Nona, Becky, and Denise in the present to Waverley and her friends in the past remains an enigma for most of the story.
Kalpakian has a gift for describing the cool, damp setting of the Pacific Northwest, and for capturing the emotions of her characters. She does tend to hop from one character’s viewpoint to another’s, but the story has a cohesiveness that takes time to become evident. As a coming-of-age tale, this has been done before; but more is happening. In Educating Waverley, Kalpakian creates a character who becomes strong enough through her educational ideals to risk the anger of others as she stands up for love and the memory of a beloved friend.