The World Cannot Give by Tara Isabella Burton

Published: March 8, 2022
Simon & Schuster
Pages: 317
Genre: Religious Fiction
KKECReads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I received a copy of this book for free, and I leave my review voluntarily.

Tara Isabella Burton is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. Winner of the
Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for Travel Writing, she completed her doctorate in 19th-century French literature and theology at the University of Oxford and is a prodigious travel writer, short story writer, and essayist for National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist’s 1843, and more. She works for Vox as their Religion Correspondent lives in New York and divides her time between the Upper East Side and Tbilisi, Georgia.

When shy, sensitive Laura Stearns arrives at St. Dunstan’s Academy in Maine, she dreams that life there will echo her favorite novel, All Before Them, the sole surviving piece of writing by Byronic “prep school prophet” (and St. Dunstan’s alum) Sebastian Webster, who died at nineteen, fighting in the Spanish Civil War. She soon finds the intensity she is looking for among the insular, Webster-worshipping members of the school’s chapel choir, which is presided over by the charismatic, neurotic, overachiever Virginia Strauss. Virginia is as fanatical about her newfound Christian faith as she is about the miles she runs every morning before dawn. She expects nothing short of perfection from herself—and from the members of the choir.

Virginia inducts the besotted Laura into a world of transcendent music and arcane ritual, illicit cliff-diving and midnight crypt visits: a world that, like Webster’s novels, finally seems to Laura to be full of meaning. But when a new school chaplain challenges Virginia’s hold on the “family” she has created, and Virginia’s efforts to wield her power become increasingly dangerous, Laura must decide how far she will let her devotion to Virginia go.

“She has been homesick, all her life, for here.”

Laura wants something to believe in; she yearns to feel like she belongs. She has found, she believes is the foundation of that within the pages of her beloved book. The book that led to the school. To her.

This was an excellent read. The character development was fantastic; the powerful themes and the idea that this could happen were terrifying.

Our main narrator is Laura, a shy, quiet young lady looking to belong. Her development from the beginning through the end is incredible.

Virginia is not likable, she says as much, but she also stands for what she believes is correct. The problem is what she considers to be right.

I loved the dynamic between light and dark throughout this novel, the constant battle between good and evil, the desire to be remembered, and wanting to be.

The ego was well represented in this novel in several ways, as was empathy, fear, loneliness, loyalty, and love.

I enjoyed the way choral music was used to present a point, but the religious tones were not garishly shoved down my throat.

I enjoyed the dynamics of having characters that were not heterosexual but also not used as sexy distractions. This was about connection, relationship, and truth.

The final chapters of this novel will slap you in the face so many times, your cheek will ache, and you won’t be able to breathe properly.

Whatever you think is going to happen, you’re mistaken. This was a deeply emotional, beautifully written novel about growing up, standing up, believing in something, and the realization that the people we place on pedestals don’t always deserve it.

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