Book Reviews

“Toronto-based author Joanna Goodman draws upon memories from a year spent at a Swiss boarding school in her youth to create the vibrant and believable world in The Finishing School, her fourth novel. This book is addictive because of the mystery it explores: the tragic death of beautiful student Cressida Strauss in 1998, which resurfaces in the present day in the form of a cryptic letter that Kersti Kuusk – Cressida’s best friend and roommate at the time of her death – receives from a former classmate. But what’s also notable is the deftness with which Goodman presents the complicated, passionate nature of friendships during formative years, as well as the fascinating and formidable depths people will go to in order to get what they want. Also enthralling (and at times painfully accurate) is Goodman’s portrayal of Kersti as a bestselling writer who struggles with self-doubt and the dichotomy between what she wants to write and what she thinks she should write. In the midst of personal turmoil, Kersti finds a strange sort of refuge in throwing herself back into the world she inhabited with Cressida. While in Switzerland for an alumni event, she begins to delve into the unsolved aspects of her friend’s death and ultimately makes a decision involving her own life that has far-reaching implications. The Finishing School offers both a compelling look into an exclusive world and a wise and heartbreaking story of a friendship and misplaced passion.”

— Globe and Mail

“As a successful novelist, Kersti Kuusk appears to have it all, but feelings of inadequacy have haunted her entire life. Back when she was reluctantly enrolled at a prestigious boarding school, Kersti’s working-class upbringing contrasted starkly with the lives of her privileged classmates. Destined to be an outsider, she instead is taken under the wing of popular, beautiful, worldly Cressida, who’s hiding a devastating secret. Twenty years after leaving school, Kersti receives a mysterious letter from a classmate, stirring memories of Cressida’s suspicious fall from her balcony. Kersti decides to escape her current shortcomings and search for answers. Spanning between her childhood memories and Kersti’s present day, Goodman’s fourth novel craftily depicts a mystery hidden for decades under the veil of boarding-school tradition and secret societies. Through the lens of Kersti’s research, Goodman unravels a web of lies intertwining the well-developed characters that cross Kersti’s path. Each discovery draws Kersti and the reader in a different direction until she finally learns the truth about the school, Cressida, and, ultimately, herself.”

— Melissa Norstedt, BOOKLIST

“If your guilty-pleasure reads include elite boarding schools, secret societies, murder, and scandal, this one’s for you.”

— Kirkus Reviews

“The Finishing School plunges the reader headfirst into a fast-paced, nail-biting mystery that also manages to explore friendship, love, adolescence, family and motherhood. By the time you reach the unexpected ending, you’ll practically be gasping for air.”

— Jessica Anya Blau, author of The Trouble with Lexie

“A compelling tale of horrific teenage secrets inside the walls of an elite school in Switzerland, unearthed with verve and sly irony. The truth is cold and slippery as ice as Goodman draws us into the darkness beneath the glittering surface of lakes and snowcapped mountains, and of privilege itself.”

 

— Deborah Lawrenson, author of 300 Days of Sun

The Finishing School pulls back the curtain to expose a fascinating world of desire, betrayal, and dangerous secrets.

— Lou Berney, Edgar Award-winning author of The Long and Faraway Gone

The Finishing School is a compelling story by a writer who clearly knows her way around the thin oxygen world of the rich and famous. Every page resonates with authenticity.

— Roberta Rich, author of The Midwife of Venice and The Harem Midwife

You Made Me Love You is full of humour, wisdom, and hope. Joanna Goodman has a wonderful ear for dialogue and a sharp eye for the nuances of life.

— Joy Fielding

About

Joanna Goodman

JOANNA GOODMAN is the author of three previous novels. Her stories have appeared in The Fiddlehead, The Ottawa Citizen, B & A Fiction, Event, The New Quarterly, and White Wall Review, as well as excerpted in Elisabeth Harvor’s fiction anthology A Room at the Heart of Things.

Originally from Montreal, Joanna now lives in Toronto with her husband and two kids, and is the owner of the Canadian linen company Au Lit Fine Linens.

Joanna Goodman

Also by this author

Joanna Goodman Book Harmony
Joanna Goodman Book Harmony

Novel

The Home for Unwanted Girls

  • Summary
  • Reviews

Philomena meets The Orphan Train in this suspenseful, provocative novel — the story of a young unwed mother who is forcibly separated from her daughter at birth and the lengths to which they go to find each other.

In 1950s Quebec, French and English tolerate each other with precarious civility—much like Maggie Hughes’ parents. Maggie’s English-speaking father has ambitions for his daughter that don’t include marriage to the poor French boy on the next farm over. But Maggie’s heart is captured by Gabriel Phénix. When she becomes pregnant at fifteen, her parents force her to give baby Elodie up for adoption and get her life ‘back on track’.
Little Elodie is raised in Quebec’s impoverished orphanage system. It’s a precarious enough existence that takes a tragic turn when Elodie, along with thousands of other orphans in Quebec, is arbitrarily declared "mentally ill" as the result of a new law that provides more funding to psychiatric hospitals than it does to orphanages.

Bright and determined, Elodie withstands abysmal treatment at the nuns’ hands, finally earning her freedom at seventeen, when she is thrust into an alien, often unnerving world.

Meanwhile, Maggie, married to a businessman eager to start a family, cannot forget the daughter she was forced to abandon, and a chance reconnection with Gabriel spurs a wrenching choice. As time passes, the stories of Maggie and Elodie intertwine but never touch, until Maggie realizes she must take what she wants from life and go in search of her long-lost daughter, finally reclaiming the truth that has been denied them both.

The Story behind the Story

The Home for Unwanted Girls is inspired by the story of Joanna's mother, who was the daughter of an Anglo "Seed Man" and a French-Canadian mother. Joanna is married to a French-Canadian man, and Joanna is bi-lingual and multi-cultural.

The book also features an historical angle: Maggie's search to find out what happened to her daughter, and Joanna's portrayal of Elodie's travails in various mental institutions, is a tragedy of operatic dimensions, all the more so because it is based on fact. In the province of Quebec in the early fifties, there was a dark period when the orphans were declared mentally ill because the government paid the Church more money for wards of hospitals than they paid for orphans. Overnight, on Change of Vocation Day, the children's educations stopped abruptly and they were told they were "mentally deficient." Many of them were shipped off to actual psychiatric hospitals, where they lived with the mentally insane well into adulthood.

Coming Soon.

Novel

The Finishing School

  • Summary
  • Reviews

How far would you go to uncover the truth? In this suspenseful, provocative novel of friendship, secrets, and deceit, a successful writer returns to her elite Swiss boarding school to get to the bottom of a tragic accident that took place while she was a student twenty years earlier.

One spring night in 1998 the beautiful Cressida Strauss plunges from a fourth-floor balcony at the Lycée Internationale Suisse with catastrophic consequences. Loath to draw negative publicity to the establishment, a bastion of European wealth and glamour, officials quickly dismiss the incident as an accident, but questions remain: Was it a suicide attempt? Or was Cressida pushed? It was no secret that she had a selfish streak and had earned as many enemies as allies in her tenure at the school. For her best friend, scholarship student Kersti Kuusk, the lingering questions surrounding Cressida's fall continue to nag long after she leaves the Lycée.

Kersti marries and becomes a bestselling writer, but never stops wondering about Cressida's obsession with the Helvetian Society-a secret club banned years before their arrival at the school-and a pair of its members who were expelled. When Kersti is invited as a guest to the Lycée's 100th Anniversary, she begins probing the cover-up, unearthing a frightening underbelly of lies and abuse at the prestigious establishment. And in one portentous moment, Kersti makes a decision that will connect her to Cressida forever and raise the stakes dangerously high in her own desire to solve the mystery and redeem her past.

An unputdownable read as clever as it is compelling, The Finishing School offers a riveting glimpse into a privileged, rarefied world in which nothing is as it appears.

"The Finishing School pulls back the curtain to expose a fascinating world of desire, betrayal, and dangerous secrets."
— Lou Berney, Edgar Award-winning author of THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE

"The Finishing School is a compelling story by a writer who clearly knows her way around the thin oxygen world of the rich and famous. Every page resonates with authenticity."
— Roberta Rich

Novel

Harmony

  • Summary
  • Reviews

A richly nuanced and compelling tale about secrets, redemption and one woman's effort to live fully as a wife, mother and herself.

“Goodman's second (after Belle of the Bayou ) offers a generously imagined panorama of life crises.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Novel

You Made Me Love You

  • Summary
  • Reviews

Generous-hearted and wickedly funny, You Made Me Love You is the story of three appealing sisters who each face life-altering decisions about love, work, ambition, and family. “Make it in Hollywood” is Estelle Zarr's mantra. She's made it to Hollywood, but she's still far from her dream of becoming a celebrated film editor. Her sister Erica is in New York, where she has flailed from one enthusiasm to another. She's currently writing and living with a major New York novelist, but Erica is finding little comfort in the literary salon. Meanwhile in Toronto, Jessie's perfect life, set in stone at age twenty-one when she married a doctor and then had two children, is beginning to crumble. As hilarious as it is poignant, You Made Me Love You brings a fresh eye to modern women's lives.

"You Made Me Love You is full of humour, wisdom, and hope. Joanna Goodman has a wonderful ear for dialogue and a sharp eye for the nuances of life."—Joy Fielding

“This book held me from its beginning to its end. It is funny, superbly written, and never fails the reader with its realistic outlook on love and relationships. A truly enjoyable read.”—Donna Morrissey

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