Cover Image: The World Cannot Give

The World Cannot Give

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Member Reviews

”There is no such thing, not really, as a shipwreck of the soul, except the ones when you drown…”

On paper, I love all of the themes that this book tries to address (traditionalism versus progress; dry religious rituals versus true spiritual awakenings) and the underlying vibes of dark academia, Gossip Girl-esque private school scandal, and desire.

But in execution, this one was a bit of a miss for me. I guess I’m too old, at 32, to relate to a bunch of prep school teenagers and their childhood dreams, passions, and obsessions. What feels “transcendent” to the 15- and 16-year-olds of a fictional boarding school feels incredibly frivolous to me.

I couldn’t really connect with any of the characters. Their strange obsessions with each other and their fanatical behavior just felt implausible, and it made the whole tone of the book come off as emotionally turbulent and a little childish.

I think teen/YA audiences will find it more relatable and will appreciate it more than I did. There are good things here too, like the conversation-sparking themes and the deep soul-searching elements. I think I’m just a bit outside the target audience on this one!

——

A huge thank you to Tara Isabella Burton, Simon & Schuster, and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review!
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Thanks Netgalley for allowing me to read this book. Laura is excited about going to a new school and meeting new friends. She meets Virginia who introduces her to her little clique. Virginia likes control and pushing the envelope at times. I liked 5his book but it dragged in a few places.
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This was a one-day read about obsession. Laura is a new student at a posh college in Maine where she hopes her life will parallel that of her favorite author, an alumnus of the school, who died at age 19 fighting in the Spanish Cuvuk War. She soon finds what she has been looking for in the leader of the school chapel choir, Virginia, an unlikable, conceited girl who very few people like. But Laura worships her and does whatever she asks of her. The story spirals into madness, and the ending left me breathless. Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for this look at religious fervor and obsession.
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I admit to almost passing this book by, being put off by the New Adult label attached to it, the young ages of its characters.  Yes, I’m one of those adults who thinks one should read age-appropriate books and YA or NA fiction isn’t it. But then again, this book gathered way too much praise to just casually ignore. There was something about it…
   Lo and behold, this is that precious unicorn of an adult-appropriate book featuring teenage characters. In fact, in retrospect, this story would have only worked with young characters – the kind of magnificent obsession that drives it simply doesn’t sustain itself after a certain age, out there in a real world. But in an isolated prep school of precociously well-educated well-to-do children, it works perfectly. 
     And so, the book follows its protagonist, a naïve romantic girl who comes from Nevada to coastal Maine to a school she had always dreamed about, a school her romantic ideal, a Byronesque young writer named Webster had attended a century ago before promptly shoving off to get killed in a war, fighting on Franco’s side of all things. The modern day might perceive Webster as a fascist sympathizer and a raving fool, enough for the statue-toppling contingent, certainly, but for our main character he is perfection. She soon finds like-minded individuals in the school’s choir, led by the wildly charismatic ascetic Virginia. 
      Now, there’s a character. A daughter of an upper middle class Jewish family, Virginia has reinvented herself as a passionate Catholic and dedicated herself to becoming World-Historical. That phrase appears throughout the book with alarming frequency. The choir kids are positively obsessed with it. It’s only logical that their generation, fed on the mothers’ milk of specialness, would make that leap. It might even be perceived as noble, this desire to become a properly significant person, to change the world, but here it manifests as toxic. A toxic character driver that makes each and every kid into their worst selves.
       Our protagonist finds herself completely under Virginia’s spell, first love and obsession all rolled into one with an intensity that only friendships of youth can support. She follows Virginia to the increasingly darker places, until the situation becomes unsustainable and then she becomes the unwitting witness to Virginia’s madness’ manifestation. 
       There’s a magnificent hypnotic quality to this novel, it’s difficult to put down, it drags you in and holds you tight, like a strange dream, almost. The intensity of the story is sustained perfectly throughout. The characters in their increasingly unhinged states, the situation at its increasingly precarious and dangerous acts. If this was indeed a performance of a choir, you’d marvel at the way they sustain their high notes.
       This is a definition perfect coming-of-age story in that it describes exactly the moment a person grows up – the moment they abandon their romantic ideals and see the world for what it really is. The devastating disappointment of it all. The courage to live with it.
      And so, you see, this sort of story can only work with a young cast - it doesn’t need the characters to be mature, doesn’t even need them to be conventionally likable. Rest assured it isn’t YA. Or even NA. There’s nothing dumbed down about this story. It is about youth, it's all about youth, about that certain brazenness of of asking of the world what the world cannot give. It’s a clever, emotionally potent rollercoaster of obsession and absolutely mesmerizing in its narrative engagement. Wow, indeed. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
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The World Cannot Give by Tara Isabella Burton starts as a slow burn, coming of age, dark academia read.  However, as the story picks up, which it does quickly, you see how Laura decides to fit in and make some big decisions. Let's just say the slow burn turns into a thriller!  This was a different read for me but I was pleasantly surprised!
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When I was in undergrad and we were learning about gnosticism, a friend and I got wine drunk and laid on the floor and tried to get our spirits to fly above our bodies so we could exist outside of our physical forms. It didn't work. But what I'm getting at here is that when you're young and vulnerable and open to possibility, the idea of transcendence is a powerful drug. That's what this novel is about. That, and the dangers of misplaced devotion. And longing. And sex, sort of, despite how much our main characters proclaim that sex is boring. While the idea of a book about a girl desperate to join a prep school choir might sound like a yawn, Tara Isabella Burton is pure magic. Just wait. You'll be listening to choral music in no time and having dreams about crypts.
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This moody, fast-paced, totally boarding-school-genre-fiction-terrific novel doesn't have the punch of Burton's SOCIAL CREATURE, but is a very fun ride. While some of the twists were predictable, others surprised. I would have loved slightly more depth (the novel touches on lots of complex conversations on "cancel culture," revenge porn, and a LOT of religious themes) it was enjoyable. Will continue to seek our Burton's books!
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From the first page, I knew this was it for me. Maybe it was the serendipity of talking with a friend about her performance in evensong only to immediately open to a chapter in which Laura, our protagonist, has an astonishing experience with evensong (something I'd previously thought was quite obscure and archaic, and have never attended).  My sapphic dark academia goblin brain has been desperate to compare this book to others I've loved--Catherine House, A Lesson in Vengeance, Plain Bad Heroines, somehow the TV show Midnight Mass--but it stands entirely on its own. The appeal to transcendentalism and capital-R-Romanticism and the deft handling of religion, both its power and fervor, set The World Cannot Give apart. I've got a new favorite, and I'm stoked.
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THE WORLD CANNOT GIVE is a wonderful (and frightening) dive into the mind of teenagers.  Laura is thrilled to be attending the boarding school that her favorite author attended in his youth.  Laura is looking to be shaped and molded by the school, to have experiences so profound they will create a "shipwreck of the soul."  When she falls in with a crowd that worships the author as she does, she thinks she has found her place.  But there are deeper things at work at the school.  Laura eventually have to decide whether to be a zealot or to think for herself.  Just an excellent read.
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I love the sub-genre Dark Academia and was very excited to receive this book. 
The book is a bit of a slow burn at first. Laura starts as a new junior at a prestigious Maine boarding school where she quickly begins to worship the chapel choir. Her yearning from a far is realized when the enigmatic Virginia invites her into her world of the cult-like choir and obsessive worship of a past theologian. The book quickly picks up pace and the last half is a thriller of backstabbing teen events as Laura begins to question how far she will go to fit in.
The ending seems abrupt but I still enjoyed the ride!  If you like coming of age, dark academia, books like the Secret History then this is the novel for you!
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I read my husband the description of this book and he asked if it was written specifically for me. Maybe it was! I loved all of the elements in it, Virginia was very recognizable, love a good Maine boarding school and the drama around was basically a meaningless club was spot on. My only quibble was that I didn't get a huge sense of Laura. Her obsession and naivete, yes but not a lot about why she was so easily swayed by this clearly disturbed young woman. I get the attraction and confusion over sexuality angle but I wish we had a tiny bit more of a peek into before she went to school. Why was she the type of kid who would get so obsessed with a book that she'd leave her home to go to the same school the author did? That points to something going on before the book begins. 

Another great book about obsession and women's friendship by the author. 

I also loved the punny names on the menu at the diner.
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I enjoyed this read. It kept my attention and I really found myself connecting with the characters. Make sure you read this one!
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Excellent story! Totally engrossing!.  Looking forward to reading more by this author! Could not put this down!
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This book nails all of the horrors and ecstasies of adolescence. The toxic groups of friends who buoy while they drown, the new-found certainties that lead to rigidity masquerading as resolve, the inability to imagine a world beyond the insular campus, deeply disappointing teenage boys, all this and more are explored at length. There is a little bit of Laura and a little bit of Virginia in us all.
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"But Laura knows she will do whatever Virginia asks. She no longer remembers how to do anything else." 

I got it, but I didn't. The World Cannot Give did remind me of The Secret History, but it's not really comparable, other than the premise. Maybe if Burton had told us more about Laura in the beginning, I would've understood WHY she was so obsessed with Virginia (other than the Sebastian Webster connection), who seemed completely unlikable and tiring to me. I think Reverend Tipton explains it best: "She annoyed me...She was posh, irritating, and stuck-up...nobody else, in her whole life, had ever put her in her place".

That said, I read the book in less than a day! Easy to read, with evocative language, and I did want to know how it would all end, certain it would not be good. From Freddy "adding freckles to Bonnie's cheeks" for an Instagram story to Evensong and Candlemas, and the destruction in Virginia's wake, I can only hope that Laura learns to be her OWN person, as she acknowledges "there is no such thing, not really, as a 'shipwreck of the soul', except the ones where you drown."

P.S. Thanks to NetGalley and Edelweiss for the ARC.
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Genre: new adult, dark academia
Pub date: March 8, 2022

In one sentence: Laura's obsession with prep school classmate Virginia changes her life, and she has to decide how far she''ll go for her friend.

Dark academia is one of my favorite subgenres, and I'm loving all the novels coming out recently. Tara Isabella Burton is a theologian as well as an author - who better to write about Christian faith at an insular prep school? This book combines teenage drama with deep questions about life, and I was hooked from the beginning. There are echoes of books like The Secret History here, and I'd recommend this book to fans of that one. Laura was a great set of eyes for the reader to explore this environments and get to know the enigmatic Virginia. There were plenty of plot twists to keep me interested, and I did not see the ending coming.

This book is somewhat in between a slow burn and a fast-paced thriller - I'd recommend it to readers who enjoy dark academia and coming of age stories.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing an ARC on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Review posted to Goodreads 9/19/21; to be posted to Instagram closer to pub date.
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I didn’t know what to think about this book. In some ways, I loved it. The characters, the twists, the confusion,  and surprise all won me over. I really don’t know how to feel about the ending though. It made sense, yet didn’t. It was fitting but not. This book made me think about contradictions, as that’s exactly how I felt about this story! I felt so much in the course of the book and felt like the ending was abrupt. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my free arc in exchange for my honest opinion. I’m still trying to puzzle out how I feel about it!
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I never read A SEPERATE PEACE, and I know that I don't have to to have enjoyed this. I just wondered if I had been forced in the past to read A SEPERATE PEACE I'd fux with this book more. But no, this book did not make me at all want to read A SEPERATE PEACE. Thank you for reading this book review of a book I have read that is actually a book review of that book about another book I've never read.
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What a gripping, raw novel about queerness, identity, and acceptance. This is A LITTLE LIFE meets CATCHER IN THE RYE. Burton has created a novel of such emotion, such captivation that pulls at your heart and mind. Thank you for the e-arc.
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One of my favorite writers I loved her book the social creature.  I couldn’t wait to read this one and this didn’t disappoint.  This book is about an insular society.  It’s also a book about obsession.  I absolutely loved it.
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