The World Cannot Give by Tara Isabella Burton

My Rating: 5 stars

Many thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for the ARC! This book is being released today, March 8 2022.

When Laura Stearns begins attending St. Dunstan’s Academy, the school her favorite writer went to, she immediately falls under the charismatic spell of Virginia Strauss, the leader of the chapel choir. The more Laura’s devotion grows and the more Virginia fights for power, things begin to spiral dangerously out of control. This book is everything I could possibly want: a boarding school story featuring toxic friendships and queer women. I adored it. However, I was still quite aware of it’s flaws, and I can see why some people wouldn’t like it. The majority of the characters are quite shallow, more stereotypes than actual characters, and they don’t feel especially realistic. This is particularly true for Bonnie, Laura’s Instagram-obsessed roommate, who plays a large roll in the plot. Even while I was completely engrossed, I could recognize how little real development there was for the characters.

However, none of that mattered to me for one reason: Virginia. She is one of the most compelling characters I’ve come across in a while. As Laura gets closer with her and the story unfolds, we slowly start to see a full picture of her character. She’s not likeable by any stretch of the imagination; she’s not supposed to be. But she feels incredibly real. Her public persona–extremely devout, traditional, and seeking to be “World-Historical”–isn’t, which is the whole point. But what we find underneath is real and raw, and we can see why she would become the way she is. I was just as mesmerized as Laura.

Laura is an interesting character as well because of how little there is to her. She’s immature, naïve, and easily influenced. She even states at one point that she wants someone to tell her the correct way to think. And, of course, she’s obsessive in her devotion, whether it’s to Virginia or her favorite author, Sebastian Webster. Other than that, she has very little personality; she’s more of a blank slate. I know that’s something a lot of people tend to not like, and generally I wouldn’t either. But it worked for me here. Being in her point of view makes it so easy to fall into the story and fall in love with Virginia. Maybe it worked so well for me because I have been that girl, though I do think it was Burton’s intention that for the reader to become enamored with Virginia along with Laura.

Overall, The World Cannot Give is a captivating campus novel that deals with obsession, religion, love, lust, and the perils of being a modern teenager. It has flaws, but I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend it.

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