The story is told by Siena, the most popular girl at her boarding school, and Romy, the girl who showed her that life could be lived differently. Except Romy was sent away for a year as punishment for pushing a girl off a ladder and, in her absence, her hold over Siena has weakened. As Siena struggles with her mother’s expectations and her friends’ expectations, she questions whether she would be happier behaving differently, Romy finds her return difficult and she struggles to find a place for herself in the school hierarchy. In the background is Jack, the boy who loves Siena and who was Romy’s best friend. As the school year progresses Siena finds it harder to maintain the balance between what is expected of her and what she thinks is the right way to behave.
Although published second, this is the prequel to Stella, and tells the story of Siena, Stella’s older sister. The bitchiness of the popular girls and the hold they have over other students in the school is well written, although the behavior of the group of girls in this story is (hopefully) somewhat extreme. Siena is an expert at feeling one thing and showing another, whilst her acolytes act both as supporters of her and controllers of her life. This book provides more of a background to Siena and Stella’s family and the events that led both girls to try and achieve power through their beauty. Dysfunctional families, bullying, beauty, friendship and love are the themes that run through the book.
Caitlin has to move to England from the States to attend boarding school for her sixth form. She has led a sheltered life, been a good teenager and is very close to her younger brother. She does not want to go to boarding school. At her new school she finds that a group of girls, led by the beautiful Stella, rule the roost. They call themselves the Stars and everyone wants to be a Star. When Caitlin is asked to join the group she is flattered but she also recoils from the exclusiveness of the group. However, being accepted is nice and being popular is nicer still, and Stella has even organised a boyfriend for Caitlin. Before she knows it, Caitlin has been sucked into a situation she does not fully understand and no good can come of it.
The story is a mix of boarding school tales, friendship and bullying, sadness and loss, dysfunctional families and the need to belong. It has a slow start but picks up, with the story being told alternately by Stella and Caitlin. As Caitlin begins to change the school, she also changes herself and these changes slip in quietly and are disquieting. The book carries a strong message about the shallowness and cruelty of some girls, the power of popular girls and the damage caused by dysfunctional families. However, despite this, the stroy’s potential is lost because there is a lot going on, perhaps too much and at times events and characters seemed a bit over the top.