cover image The World Cannot Give

The World Cannot Give

Tara Isabella Burton. Simon & Schuster, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-1-982170-06-6

Burton underwhelms with a redux of her debut, Social Creature, in which an egotistical alpha girl seduces a naive disciple. Set at St. Dunstan’s Academy, a boarding school on the coast of Maine, the story revolves around Virginia Strauss, leader of the tradition-bound school choir, and Laura Stearns, a transfer who has fallen in love with the school after discovering a book written by alumnus Sebastian Webster, a Byronic figure who died fighting in the Spanish Civil War. The calculating and zealous Virginia draws Laura into her inner circle, all young men who also adore Webster, goading them with ritualistic challenges that include blood oaths and dangerous cliff diving. But new chaplain Reverend Tipton doesn’t take kindly to Virginia’s cultish hold on the choir, and when Tipton adds a singer to their ranks, a popular and pretty girl who happens to be one of Virginia’s nemeses, Virginia’s behavior turns mortally dangerous. Laura, who adores Virginia unconditionally, must decide how far she is willing to follow her friend into a sinister morass. The plot advances too transparently in service of proving a familiar truism: young people on the cusp of adulthood, longing to find meaning, face ethical, sexual, and spiritual crises. It’s an inspired effort, but it doesn’t break any new ground. (Mar.)