The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

In this retelling of the popular classic Jane Eyre, Margot Livesey spins a fantastical tale of a young orphan girl named Gemma Hardy. Set in the 1950-60’s, The Flight of Gemma Hardy revolves around the evolution of children’s rights. Society is beginning to understand that children are not miniature adults that must work for their food or objects that can be sold as servants. Our protagonist, Gemma, is so desperate to feel wanted, to be loved, to be accepted, that she’s willing to lie and steal. She realizes that she may not be as good a person as she originally thought and that the evil adults of her childhood may have been battling demons similar to her own.

Summary

By the age of ten, Gemma Hardy is orphaned and living with her vindictive aunt and cruel cousins. Feeling unwelcome and unappreciated, Gemma accepts an offer to attend a prestigious boarding school. However, she soon realizes that her aunt’s sudden generosity was just a ploy to finally be rid of her. In exchange for waiving her tuition and boarding costs, Gemma must work as a servant, all while surviving merciless bullying and overly strict teachers. Just before her 17th birthday, Gemma finds a job as a live-in teacher for an eight-year-old girl.

Blackbird Hall is a dream come true for Gemma. She has her own spacious bedroom, steady employment, and friends who care about her well-being. As she settles into her new life, however, she becomes restless. Who is Gemma Hardy? What does she truly want out of life? Are her naive views of the world holding her back? Adulthood is proving to be an even greater adventure than childhood.

Pros

  • Gemma begins life as arrogant and headstrong, but she visibly matures as the story progresses.
    • She realizes her mistakes and understands that she needs to slow down and actually think things through.
  • Learning about the history of both Wales and Iceland was very interesting. The author clearly did her research.
  • Well-written, with language that is easy to understand.
  • Strong-willed, intelligent female protagonist.

Cons

  • The book is pretty long (443 pages), the pace is slow, and the story progresses so smoothly that important events aren’t that exciting.
    • At some points, her impulsiveness and naivety can be annoying, but it’s important to remember that she’s still only 18.
  • There are some lapses in logic, such as how Gemma can be so well-educated when the majority of her time at school was spent cleaning and cooking.
  • Everyone is immature. Everyone.
  • A lot of names to remember.
  • In my opinion, Gemma is drawn to men who are dangerously manipulative.

My Rating

Although I didn’t necessarily agree with some of Gemma’s choices, I liked her as a protagonist, and despite some plot-holes and wordiness, the storyline was entertaining. I rate The Flight of Gemma Hardy 3.5 out of 5 stars.