A Chalet Girl from Kenya (by Elinor M Brent-Dyer)

In gradually re-reading my way through Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s lengthy Chalet School series, I’ve reached the ones set in the Swiss Oberland, written in the 1950s. The earliest books were set in Austria in the 1930s and are still my favourites. The later ones feel more ‘samey’, written for fans of the series who were clamouring for more, and to make money for the publishers - but I still like to dip into them when I want something easy to read.

I last read ‘A Chalet Girl from Kenya’ in 2001. This book features Jo Scott, a likeable, sensible girl who has been living in Kenya. It’s at an era when life was becoming dangerous with unrest, so her mother decides to send Jo to the Chalet School, remembering it from her own childhood. Jo is the unofficial goddaughter of Joey Maynard, who was the school’s first pupil and who, by this stage, lives next door and has had eight children of her own.

There’s a lot of day-to-day description of life at the school, with rambles and picnics, lessons and leisure time. I found myself skimming here and there; Brent-Dyer tended to go over the same ground at times, and while I’d forgotten the plot of the book, I found much of the educational and healthy living theories to be very familiar. The author was quite forward-thinking in her day, seeing the value of fresh air, exercise, and minimal supervision; but having grown up with the books, it’s hard to remember, sometimes, how radical they were.

I did, however, find myself warming to Jo Scott. Many of the author’s characters have big problems in their development, or tremendous gifts in some area, which make them stand out. Jo is remarkable for being very ordinary. She works hard but is not academic; she likes sports but is not greatly talented. She’s not unmusical and she does her best at art and needlework, but she shows no great skill at anything. She could seem mediocre and dull, but somehow she shines as a kind, courageous and sensible child who is liked by almost everybody.

There’s some high drama in the book, although not so different from similar escapades in other books of this sequence; there’s potential tragedy and some events that set the book firmly in context. It’s nothing special - and yet I very much enjoyed re-reading it.

This is one of the series that was barely cut at all in the Armada paperback version. It's not currently in print, but can often be found second-hand in the UK (and sometimes, at great price, in the US).

The previous book in the series is ‘The Chalet School Does it Again’.

Review copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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