The Secret Sisters
Clarion Books, 2023
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What’s this book about?
Attending high school in Steamboat Springs is Ida Bidson’s dream—it’s her next step toward becoming a teacher and her best shot at escaping a life of milking cows. It’s 1925, and from using telephones to attending movies, Ida is thrilled by her new experiences in Steamboat. She and her school friends even form a club, the Secret Sisters, to celebrate everything modern.
But when they accidentally antagonize the strict, traditionalist principal, Ida’s high school career may be over before it even begins. It’s up to the Secret Sisters find a way to save Ida’s dream!
Readers will cheer for Ida as she continues the adventure begun in the one-room schoolhouse of Avi’s popular The Secret School.
This sequel to The Secret School (2001) continues the story of 14-year-old Ida, who leaves her home on a Colorado farm in 1925 to attend high school in Steamboat Springs. Ida boards with Trudy, a woman mourning for her fiancé, who fought in the Great War and died during the 1918 pandemic. Besides encouraging Ida to work hard and avoid annoying the principal, Trudy expresses concern that Ida is influenced too much by her “secret sisters” (a small group of new classmates), particularly lively, rebellious Lulu. When stressful situations arise, Ida handles them with support from those around her and with increasing confidence in herself and her values. While Avi focuses primarily on Ida’s excitement, worries, and growth as her world expands, certain elements place the story firmly within its historical context. These include the increasing support of women’s rights, the widespread adoption of innovations such as radio, electric lights, and telephones, and Lulu’s use of flapper slang, which is translated within the text and the appended glossary. An enjoyable historical novel with a likable heroine. (Carolyn Phelan, Booklist)
Ida Bidson attended a one-room schoolhouse, but in September 1925, she says goodbye to her family. She won’t be home for two months. Ida dreams of being a teacher, so she must go 20 miles away to high school. Kind county school inspector Miss Sedgewick lets Ida board with her for free, and everything feels so modern: indoor plumbing, electricity, and a telephone! Ida’s anxious to please but wrestles with what’s considered proper and what other people think of her. When she makes some friends, they form the Secret Sisters club to try new things and help each other in school. But the girls end up on the bad side of the principal, who has firm attitudes about ladylike behavior, women voters, and the capability of rural students and threatens to expel them. Getting good grades on the upcoming midterm exams is critical. While maintaining a solid grounding in the 1920s, the novel tackles self-discovery amid challenging situations, including dealing with peer pressure, misogyny, classism, and general unfairness, in ways contemporary readers will find accessible and relatable. Historical facts are memorably and organically conveyed through Ida’s innate curiosity. Characters read White; one of Ida’s friends is from an immigrant mining community, and her name cues as having East European heritage. One for smart, outspoken kids looking for their places in the world. (Kirkus Reviews)