The Education of Bet

Written by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Sixteen-year-old Bet yearns to go away to school like her friend Will, but in 19th-century England girls are barred from traditional education. Will is bored with his schooling and wishes to join the military, but he knows his uncle will never approve. So Bet devises a plan to switch places. She will disguise herself as a boy and take Will’s place at school; Will will be free to join the army. However, as Bet pursues her precarious scheme, she quickly encounters unexpected obstacles. Not all the boys at Betterman Academy have academics first in their minds; many prefer to spend their time bullying their classmates. And one boy, kinder and handsomer than the others, forces Bet to acknowledge that in spite of her disguise she will always be a girl underneath.

The Education of Bet is a fast-paced romp for the reluctant young reader, but the sense of place and period is underdeveloped, and the storyline lacks credibility. A cross-dressing masquerade of several months’ duration is far-fetched even with the most meticulous planning, but the scheme becomes completely implausible given Bet’s carelessness in so many crucial details. Forgetting to ask what subjects are taught until the day she sets off for school? Planning an elaborate wardrobe and neglecting gender-appropriate footwear? Surely, it takes a cannier heroine than this to pull off such an elaborate act. Somehow, though, the plan goes on—allies materialize, deceptions are forgiven, and events conspire toward a fairytale ending. While Bet does possess a certain spunk and stubborn integrity that make us glad for her in the end, a reader can’t help but wonder how any girl—past or present—could find herself quite so lucky.