It’s never easy to be the new girl at school and, for Rose, this year promises to be even harder. For one, she’s starting as a Junior, and for another, it seems like more than one teacher knows exactly why she’s here at the new school. The isolation of having no friends is almost as bad as the hurt of betrayal when all of her old friends turned against her after it came out that she was having an affair with Nathan, her teacher, a man who was twice her age. Livingston, an all girl’s school, was the only place that would take her, so now she’s away from home with a roommate who hates her, teachers who look at her like she might have the plague, and no idea how she’s going to get through today, let alone all the tomorrows yet to come.
Somehow Rose finds it in her to persist, trying hard to make friends with her roommate, Charlie, and Charlie’s friends Billie, June, and Ronnie. And, for a wonder, it works. Maybe it’s kismet, maybe they feel sorry for her, whatever it is Rose will take it. She follows them out to a cave on the edge of the property where they smoke, drink, and discuss poetry. And witchcraft.
It turns out that Charlie and her friends are witches, and they’re offering to let Rose join their coven.
Livingston Girls is a book that focuses more on character than it does plot. Rose is a girl made of emotions, and who spends a great deal of time lost in her own thoughts. When she realizes she has feelings for Charlie, it takes her time to first understand and then acknowledge to herself what she feels. There’s also the fact that Charlie is seeing a boy, Eddie, the son of the headmaster of the neighboring all boys school, which makes Rose hate him at first sight. That and his dad is a rival magic user who wants to steal the grimoire held by the Livingston Coven’s head witch, the school headmaster.
However, because the attention is all on Rose and her feelings, the other characters — including Charlie — feel like set pieces for Rose’s journey of self-discovery. Charlie, whose sister died very recently, is first torn up and then just seems over it. Much as she gets over her romance with Eddie as soon as she realizes Rose likes her. The romance between Charlie and Eddie was confusing, to be honest, and I thought (considering Eddie’s dad is the evil magic user) that Charlie’s hot and cold fixation would end up being magically induced. When she’s with Eddie, she’s gooey and in love; when she’s not with Eddie, she wants to break up with him. Charlie feels like the idea of a person, there to be mean to Rose so she feels bad, then to suddenly turn around and invite her to come join the girls in the cave so Rose can join the coven. She’s the love interest without really feeling like a person; she seems in love with Eddie to make Rose jealous, and then as if she falls out of love with him so Rose can have a girlfriend.
The plot is a collection of pieces that never really fit perfectly together. Things happen coincidentally and loose ends are ignored. For example, when one of the girls is kidnapped, the group is kind of upset, but because the focus is Rose and her love affair with Charlie, it’s never addressed. This girl is missing for days, but one seems to care beyond a token line from her girlfriend. Days, weeks, and months pass in a random moment or two, but Rose never grows or changes or seems to have opinions on it. If Rose were a stronger character, one who took actions rather than standing around while the plot happened to her, this might have worked. Instead, it felt messy and chaotic.
The magic system is interesting, with spells being lines of poetry — so long as you grasp the poem’s true intent, which felt odd, since the girls are using a variety of poems from a variety of authors. How do they know the true intent? Do different people get different results, or can you only read a poem one way, understand it in one way? Magic spells in this world have a backlash; cast a spell, get a cut. Cast a stronger spell, your ribs break. However, Rose reacts to pain the same way she does to everything else, which is to say she doesn’t.
The book felt very unfocused, to me. Rose wasn’t a strong enough character to cover a book, the other characters didn’t feel real, and the plot left me with more questions than answers. The writing was fairly solid, but the pace was uneven, and in the end I’m afraid to say this book is a pass for me.