Book #3 for my Malory Towers Challenge, or rather of me reading through the Malory Towers books chronologically. Although this one is titled ‘third year’, as always, it deals with one term at the school. The story opens as usual with Darrell preparing to return to Malory Towers, where her sister Felicity will be joining her next term. Her friend Sally is in quarantine, and they must take along Zerelda Brass, a new American student, along as they drive down. Zerelda is Blyton’s somewhat typical American student concerned with her appearance alone, and not so much with studies or the activities (sport and such) that the English girls love. She also appears a lot more grown up than she is because of this inviting disapproval from the teachers, though admiration from Gwendolen Mary. At school, we meet two other new students, Wilhemina or Bill whose whole life revolves around horses, especially her own horse Thunder, and Mavis who is supposed to have joined last term (but this is the first we meet her—I am not reading the books Blyton didn’t write for this challenge), and whose sole concern is her excellent voice which makes her rather conceited but also somewhat adored by Gwendolen Mary. Also we find, like Sally, Alicia’s pal Betty is in quarantine so Alicia decides to team up with Darrell for the time being. While we do see what the usual cast of characters get up to, the focus of this one is the three new girls, their temperaments and problems, and how Malory Towers and the girls (and indeed teachers) they meet there change their approach to life, and to school.
As I wrote in my review of book 2, reading this series, I really appreciate that Blyton has made these characters very real, even the ‘good’ ones have flaws, and not ones that get magically cured, but that creep back time and again as they do in real life, and have to be dealt with, at least by the ones who are capable of recognising these in themselves. This instalment, as I said, concentrates more on the stories of the three new girls. I wonder how Blyton formed her picture of the typical American girl, but Zerelda in this one is very like Sadie from St Clares concerned with her complexion, hair, and nails, and not much else even though they are good natured people, mostly. (Incidentally, Gwendolen Mary’s habit of fawning over a new girl each term is much like Alison of St Clares too). But even so, that is clearly not her idea of what children should be like, growing up before they need to. Zerelda of course has more to her than simply being a Sadie clone, with her ambitions to be a successful actress someday. But she realises in the course of her term at Malory Towers, that there is more to being an actress than she thinks. Mavis too has ambitions, but while she has talent as well, she lets that make her conceited, which doesn’t go down very well with the others. And Bill (Wilhemina) needs to start accepting that there is more to the world than just her horses though they will continue to be an important part of her life. I know Blyton has a specific idea of what children should ideally be like and that shows through in many of her books (therefore, weaker characters don’t come through as simply one type of person, but ones that have to become stronger), but some of these ideas—especially of being good people—are definitely something that people need to learn to be, even today (and which schools aren’t much concerned with). Of course, besides these issues, and Sally and Darrell dealing with their own problems and progress in school, there are the antics of the other girls (Irene and Belinda), Alicia playing tricks which Mam’zelle finally takes good-naturedly as always and the term time staples, making this an enjoyable read in the series.