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Content/Trigger Warnings: Graphic animal deaths, grief, death, murder, scene of committed suicide, strangulation, depictions of blood, loss of loved ones (past & present), child abandonment, bullying, ableism & ableist language, mutism, child abuse & neglect, night terrors
“The Priors didn’t build this house. Gallant was already here. It called out to our family, and like fools, we came.”
Friends, I have been sitting here asking myself why I haven’t picked up anything by V.E. Schwab until now. Why did no one recommend her books to me sooner? Like, I really freaking loved this book. Every time I set it down, I was thinking about this book, itching to pick it back up. Even while I was reading two other books, this book still danced in my thoughts. Needless to say, Schwab’s books have been bumped up on my radar for books to read.
Olivia Prior has spent her whole life in an all girls school, where cruelty is abundance. With only the vaguest of clues to her past and the parents who left her behind in the pages on a journal, written by her mother. Until one day, a letter arrives from distant, unknown family, summoning Olivia to Gallant. But upon arriving, Olivia is only met with confusions and secrets. Refusing to leave, Olivia is determined to unravel the secrets that everyone, even her mother’s, is trying to shield her from.
As someone who’s new to Schwab’s writing and world building, I felt entire emersed in the world of Gallant. It was so easy for me to get sucked in with the ghouls and the way little things would slowly unravel. I absolutely adore world that can catch my attention with the tiniest, little things. I always say the beauty is in the little details and that’s what we’re given with this book. They’re the subtle details that you can only feel and truly see when you almost feel like you’re the main character. As if you’re experiencing things for yourself. And I think the mixed media was a nice touch to really paint the picture of what our mc was reading, seeing, and just added the icing to the cake, if you will.
“Stay with me. Stay with me. Stay with me.
I would write the words a thousand times if they’d be strong enough to hold you here.”
Speaking of our main character, holy French toast yes please! Can we have more main characters who are mute, who use sign language?! Characters that are quiet on the outside, but filled with noise, bottled up feelings waiting to escape in it’s own way?! I really loved Olivia and everything that made Olivia who she is. I think her determination really made me fall in love with her because her desire to seek out answers were so strong. And I really loved that about her. She’s just one of those characters that has a fire lit inside of them that burns so brightly, it’s hard to ignore and that’s what she was for me. She was a character who stood out in so many ways. I also want to say we have a side character who’s implied to be dyslexic and I really appreciated that representation being added into this book.
The themes scattered throughout this book were fantastic. There were so many themes about love and freedom, and homes. The discussion about homes and finding a place where you belong. There’s this constant theme of how homes can take on many forms. It can feel like a gilded cage or home can be a person. How sometimes even in a home, we can feel like an unwanted stranger and never really know peace or safety. The constant themes of freedom and homes constantly made me think of (and I don’t say this very often) Genie and Aladdin when they talk about freedom. “Freedom. But, oh, to be free! To be my own master. Such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the treasures in all the world.” This is a constant feeling I got from Olivia, from all the Priors really, in various different ways. I think of all the things I loved about this book, the themes throughout really hit my soul the most and are the real reason I loved this book as much as I did. As readers, we don’t often look for themes, but when we do, they can hit all the softest parts of our being.
“Free – a small word for such a magnificent thing. I don’t know what it feels like, but I want to find out.”
Honestly, I don’t have the words to describe all the things this book made me feel, how it touched parts of my soul in ways I don’t want to be vulnerable about. I think this was just a masterfully written book, with very beautiful writing and I think those who are looking for themes or some sort of connection with this book, you’ll find it. I know I found it when I least expected it.
If I had to sit down and say anything negative about this book, I think it would be two things. One, that this doesn’t fully feel like a young adult book. I think there will be readers who feel this fits in the middle grade category more. For me, I think they can be both because both can be true at the same time. The other thing I think will cause may readers to dislike the book will be the constant conversations and themes around death. Death is a theme and topic, let’s just be honest, people in general get skittish or hesitant to read or talk about. It tends to remind us of our own mortality especially when a book feels set in our own world or scenes are laced with very real situations/consequences, etc… I think the theme of death will be something that may cause readers to take a step back with or even feel uncertain about especially because there’s been so many different portrayals of Death throughout literature, media, etc… For me, these things weren’t an issue, but I think they may be issues for other readers.
“But the truth is, death is everywhere. Death comes for the roses and the apples, it comes for the mice and the birds. It comes for us all. Why should death stop us from living?”
Overall, what more can I say about this book except that I loved it. This was such an atmospheric read that hooked me right from the start. Honestly, one of the hardest books to set down for sleep and regular necessary things because I was so hooked on the story, in love with the writing. I think this may be a hit or miss for readers especially if you’ve been a long time fan of Schwab’s work. But I absolutely fell in love with this book and I’ll definitely be picking up more books by Schwab in the future!