A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper

When I was in graduate school, someone told me about Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. I made my way to the UNCG library to find it and devoured it. To be honest, I was not totally sold on the ending. But it still made a deep impression on me, and last year I bought it as another option for my 8th graders who have to read classics, and some of them have also enjoyed it (though I think they tend to have reservations about the ending as well). Have you read it? It’s about Cassandra, a seventeen-year-old young lady who lives in a run-down castle with her sister, her father, and her stepmother. Money is short and her father, a novelist, has writer’s block. A family–a family with two handsome sons–moves nearby and as things begin to change, Cassandra records it all in her journal. If you haven’t read it, you really should. Cassandra is especially delightful. I keep meaning to read it again myself.

So, why am I talking about it? Well, I don’t know how anyone could review A Brief History of Montmaray without mentioning I Capture the Castle. It approaches some of the same themes in very different ways. In A Brief History of Montmaray, we follow Sophie as she, her sister, her cousin, and her crazy uncle (the King of Montmaray) live in a run-down castle on the fictional island country of Montmaray, which is between the coasts of Spain and England. Europe is on the brink of the second World War, and Montmaray is quickly running out of money. As Sophie begins to face her feelings about the housekeeper’s son, she is also confronted with the ideas of right and wrong, with Nazis and murder and loyalty. As Sophie experiences the last months of Montmaray, she begins the difficult process of discovering who she is and where her responsibilities lie.

This is the sort of romantic book that has you turning the pages in excitement. Sophie is a great narrator, and Michelle Cooper made some really interesting choices, taking some plots that could be kind of ordinary into different places than I had expected. I have already taken it to school and can’t wait to process it for my students. It’s got everything – romance, Nazis, castles, murder, intrigue, and a mad king. What’s not to like, really? I think my romantic Twilight fans will love it and I will manage to sneak in a little bit of history at the same time.

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