A classic boarding school tale, the Nigerian setting gives this engaging story a fresh and interesting twist.
Jummy is excited when she passes the entrance exam and earns a place at Nigeria’s finest boarding school for girls. With its reputation for academic and sporting excellence, the River School sounds perfect. Jummy’s early days at the school are, however, tarnished by the presence in her dorm of the spiteful and spoiled Bolaji and by the discovery that her best friend from home, Caro, is working as a maid under the supervision of the school’s harsh Matron. To make matters worse, Jummy discovers that Bolaji obtained her place at the school by cheating and Caro is now being forced to do Bolaji’s homework. Appalled by the injustice, Jummy and her new friends in Nile House develop a plan to help Caro. But will their plan work? Will Caro be able to escape matron and join the school or will Bolaji succeed in thwarting their efforts?
Jummy at the River School has every element of the classic boarding school story, including the classic antagonists in Matron and Bolaji, and the fierce rivalry between the school houses (in this case Jummy’s Nile House and Bolaji’s Limpopo house) culminating in a sporting contest. There’s even a couple of midnight feasts thrown in for good measure. What makes this story stand out, however, is the setting. Instead of the traditional British boarding school, the River School is in Nigeria. This gives the story a fresh twist and makes it a much more interesting read. I particularly liked how the girls compete for space to wash and the way Jummy has to learn to clean in order to ensure Nile House meets the school’s exacting standards.
As a character Jummy is both believable and sympathetic. We like her from the start and this only grows as she changes and develops as a person. She’s a little lacking in self-awareness at the start, unable to truly appreciate the advantages her comfortable family circumstances give her over her poorer neighbour and best friend, Caro. At school, however, she begins to compare her behaviour with that of Bolaji and is horrified that she may inadvertently share some of the same traits. It’s impossible not to admire the way Jummy resolves to be different – to work harder, clean with more vigour and attention to detail and – importantly – do something to help Caro.
The plot isn’t exceptionally original and it’s not hard to guess the ending. But this really doesn’t matter. The writing is clear, accessible and engaging and I simply whizzed through the book, enjoying every page.
This is a joyful story that feels full of colour and life. It’s, therefore, impressive that, beneath this, the book deals with some serious and important themes. It explicitly highlights the issue of discrimination based on poverty and, through the role of Bolaji, also critiques the privileges so often claimed by the wealthy. A topic that’s especially timely in the UK at the moment!
If you enjoyed this, I’d suggest you try the Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens. This begins with Murder Most Unladylike, although my personal favourite is Jolly Foul Play.
Publication date: January 2022
Publisher: Chicken House