Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port receive a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. Every year, the poorer residents look to see that their names are on the list. The wealthier look to see how likely their sons are to survive. And Rhen Tellur opens it to see if she can derive which substances the ink and parchment are created from, using her father’s microscope.
In the province of Caldon, where women are trained in wifely duties and men are encouraged into collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her Mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition.
With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone’s ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the maze.
“You take this world and make it what it should be. And don’t let the beliefs of a backward system define you. You are the one who has to live with the future, baby girl. So you live it. You understand?” (Weber).
To Best the Boys is a novel about a young girl who's tired of 'leaving it to the men', and decides to take a shot an an all boys competition for a scholarship at an all boys school.
The book starts off with Rhen and her friends in a lab, attempting to get a blood sample from the newest corpse to test it for disease. I love that we were thrown into the middle of as situation that was used to showcase each of the character's personalities.
I really enjoyed the premise of the story. I was really excited for the labyrinth part of the story, expecting it to be the biggest chunk of plot, and I have to say I'm a bit disappointed that the main event only started at about 60% into the book, resulting in it not lasting as long as I would have hoped.
Rhen Tellur is a strong, smart, and determined female character that drove the story where it needed to go, without being too overbearing. I also appreciated Seleni very much as she not only brought balance to the character dynamic, but she represented a strong, smart girl who also liked frilly dresses and being a housewife. The pair showed off two very different people without making one seem less than the other.
As much as I like fantasy and otherworldly beings, I found that the fantasy element in this novel was unnecessary. The novel is focused on science and women's rights set in the 1800s (correct me if I'm wrong on the time frame) with implied supernatural occurrences coming from the Holm estate. What I don't understand is the ghouls and sirens coming from the sea. I found that aspect to be unnecessary to the plot.
The theme of the book greatly surrounds women's rights. It is very much implied that girls should do whatever they want to do - whether that be going to university to cure diseases, or becoming a housewife. The message was conveyed without tearing down the image of all men, and I appreciated that.
I found the novel to be really well written. I liked the way the story was introduced as well as the way it ended (I won't spoil it) because it gave the story a unique feel. There were a lot of well kept secrets throughout the novel that I never suspected and I thought that was brilliant.
The ending was the perfect wrap up to answering most of the big questions that we had after the labyrinth, but there were a few left unanswered. I think that was a smart move on the author's part, leaving some details to the imagination.
I really enjoyed reading To Best the Boys. I thought it was smart, entertaining, and exciting. I look forward to reading more of Weber's work in the future. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.
Mary Weber is the multiple-award-winning author of the bestselling young adult Storm Siren Trilogy, and The Evaporation of Sofi Snow series (all by HarperCollins). An avid school and conference speaker, Mary's passion is helping others find their voice amid a too-loud world. When she's not plotting adventures involving tough girls taking over the universe, Mary sings 80's hairband songs to her three muggle children, and ogles her husband who looks strikingly like Wolverine. They live in California which is perfect for stalking L.A. bands and the ocean.
Mary's books have been featured in the Scholastic School Book Fairs and endorsed by bestselling authors Marissa Meyer, Wendy Higgins, and Jonathan Maberry. You can also find Mary and Marissa Meyer's fun interview in the paperback of Marissa's NYT bestselling, CRESS.