Author: Ellie Eaton
Trigger Warning - Bullying, Controlling Parents, Drug Use, Nudeness, Sex with a Minor, Trauma, Underage Drinking
Disclaimer – This book was read in the ARC* form. There may be some differences in this version than from what appears in other copies. This book contains sexual themes for ages 18+ that may be mentioned below and should be read with discretion. Do not read further if you would like to avoid any discussion on those topics.
Publication: January 2021
Growing up Divine isn't as incredible as it sounds. Smoking, rebelliousness, and sexual encounters aren't what most of us would describe as divine. But that is what the girls do at St. John the Divine boarding school.
A literary fiction novel about how moments of ones past can impact our lives more than we could ever imagine. Josephine, in particular, has spent over 20 years holding onto regrets from her time as a Divine. From losing her virginity to bullying fellow peers, and overall just having a "Divine" attitude. She can't escape the ghosts of her past, but what bothers her the most of it all; Jo can never NOT be a Divine. Once you're Divine, you are Divine for life.
In-Depth Review (contains spoilers)
I have never attended a boarding school, but these behaviors portrayed throughout this book make sense to me. When you live with the same people for so long and are separated from most of the outside world, of course these girls would make things up to survive. The boy names and the rituals are just a way of staying together as a group and doing something that seems significant besides school. Being a Divine is almost like some inside joke that only Divines are aware of but everyone else still knows they're excluded from. This is why the group mentality makes sense, but also bothers me so much. Personally, I am very independent and would never go along with most of this. But these girls are crammed together into a situation that promotes peer pressure. This is clearly a fictional situation, but is not far off from situations today. It is easy for insecure teenagers to fall victim to these troubles and it will always be this way. So its natural that these girls explore in any way they can and encourage each others to try drugs and sexual exploration. And of course plenty of trauma will arise from these situations. I was in awe that the Townies treated these girls as if they were not of this earth.
The English writing gave the entire story an interesting characteristic. Being from the United States, I am not entirely familiar with some more traditional English phrases and slang, so I found it interesting to read. It gave the characters so much more depth for me. I found it especially interesting once Josephine and Jurgen were living in Los Angeles. When her friend Audrey commented on her "Brit" terms and told Josephine to call things what they are, I laughed out loud. It made Americans appear harsh and blunt but that is probably how we are taken. It's interesting that Divines were known for their rebellions and yet certain words were still taboo for even them.
I occasionally felt separated from Josephine in an unusual way. She herself seemed to relive her past memories as if someone else had experienced them and she was just a bystander. It may have been her dissociating herself from past regrets, but I found it more difficult to connect with her as a character when she couldn't even really connect with herself.
In the end, I was extremely frustrated with two things: that Gerry was alive and that she easily could have been found. I understand that if Josephine thought she was dead, then there wouldn't have been any reason to search for her. But she wasn't dead and Josephine never even checked to see if she had survived. She just assumed that Gerry had died. Josephine ended up spending the entire book wallowing over what she had done and in the end it was all fine. This book wasn't leading up to a happy ending and that's partially what we got. And I am not happy about it.
This was a book about how things from your past can haunt you for life. Especially in situations where you hurt people. This story could have easily been remedied. Instead she stresses out and hurts her own adult life due to her regrets rather than letting go of the past. The story is interesting overall with the aspect of the Divines and Josephine's interactions with the Townies, but there was no growth here. She was just as troubled an adult as she had been during her teenage years.
My final thought is with Lauren. Where did she end up? How did she handle Josephine's sudden rejection? There was a sense of closure with the interaction with Gerry, but there is still so much confusion surrounding Lauren and their final encounter. I wanted more. Lauren had as many issues as Josephine, but they were there for each other and leaving her out in the end was just criminal.
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*ARC, or Advance Reading Copy, is a pre-published, nearly complete version of a new book that is given out before the official release date. The aim is to gain reviews that can coincide with the launching and to get booksellers interested in selling the book. It is normal for there to be changes from the ARC to the actual published copy since this form is an uncorrected proof.