ABOUT THE BOOKS
Elizabeth is apprehensive about going back to Hill School. For a start, it has now become the Hill School for Holistic Learning. Her best friend has left school and she is all alone. And when school begins, everything is different. There are no exams or classes, they have to talk to trees and do weird things like dance yoga. For the class project, Elizabeth is teamed with three girls – Mahrukh, whom she knows slightly, and Ayesha and Maitreyi, two new girls whom she does not like. As if this weren’t bad enough, Elizabeth manages to lose a historic journal…
After her first term in Hill School, Ayesha is quite happy to go back to school – because she has new friends. But suddenly, the secret she has been hiding since she joined school is threatening to spill out and ruin everything. Will Mahrukh, Elizabeth and Maitreyi still be her friends after they find out?
Maitreyi’s new year at Hill School does not begin well – the day before school reopens, her mother tells her she has to meet the brother she barely remembers.
At school, the Class VIII students have to help rebuild a school for local children and the Baldwin School boys are part of the project. That means Maitreyi is constantly thrown into the company of this stranger who is her brother. And while working on the school project, Maitreyi and her friends have to cut through an atmosphere of fear and distrust until they uncover some shocking truths about their new classmates.
Mahrukh is excited to be back at school for the winter. They have a new basketball coach, who played in the Indian Olympics team and Mahrukh has spent the vacation improving her game. But the term brings trouble after trouble – the new coach suspects the four friends of being bullies, and Empire Stores, which is the centre of Mahrukh’s world, is on the verge of shutting down. Everything she loves might go – basketball, Empire Stores, her childhood home. And the friends also have to unravel the puzzle of the Baldwin School basketball team. What are they so afraid of?
- Considering how popular the Malory Towers and St Clare’s series were, it’s strange that we did not have a popular Indian school series until now. The Hill School Girls series is a welcome attempt to fill this gap. The books centre around a group of four friends – Elizabeth, Ayesha, Maitreyi, and Mahrukh – who study at The Hill School for Holistic Learning, which is located in the fictional town of Lailapaani. Each book is a new term at school, and is narrated from the point of view of one of the four girls. Friendship, rivalries, intrigue, drama, this series has it all!
- Each book in the series hinges on a mystery or set of mysteries. Things are stolen, people behave strangely, and our protagonists are always up to the task of finding out why. The sense of intrigue and suspense keeps the stories tight, and will ensure that readers are kept hooked.
- Since each book is written from the point of view of a different girl, each story has something new to offer. Their varying personalities – Elizabeth is shy, Mahrukh is sporty, Maitreyi is a teacher’s daughter, and Ayesha is a computer nerd and music lover – ensure that the stories will be relatable to a wide range of readers.
- The world of Lailapaani has been very well constructed. The fictional town comes with a full-fledged history and origin story, as well as lots of details about the kind of people who live and work there. These bits are charming, especially for readers who have grown up in small hill towns or are in boarding school.
- The books often touch upon or deal with some complex themes like violence against women and class-based discrimination, although the approach to these issues is a tad too simplistic.
- The books dwell not only on the girls’ antics in school, but also on their relationships with their families. The interplay between the home and school environments and the ways in which adults can stress children out are well portrayed. For example, Ayesha, in the second book Secrets, resents her parents for being distant with her, and it shapes much of what she feels while at school. Many readers will be able to relate with the mix of confusion, frustration, anger, and love that the girls feel towards their parents.
- An imaginative surprise reveals itself in the covers of the books! While each cover features one of the girls on it, when the four books are placed next to each other facing up, they form a composite picture of the four friends sitting together and doing things they like to do.
- Many of the mysteries do not live up to their promise. While in some cases the endings are a little predictable, in others the solutions seem too easy, and do not involve enough exciting snooping.
- There are instances where the vocabulary of the narrators doesn’t altogether match that of a twelve- or thirteen-year-old. In some instances, they sound like much younger children, while in others they use words like “vitiated” (Maitreyi in Strangers) that seem totally out of character.
- The series contains quite a few ironic jokes and references to the world of alternative schooling. Many of these jokes feel like they cater to adult readers, rather than at the target audience of the books. For instance, Elizabeth’s parents (in Alone) are education enthusiasts who spend their time reading books with titles like Flowers Learning to Bloom: Effective Education and the Role of Freedom. The humour implicit in such details may be too niche for the readers of this series.