Upper Fourth at Malory Towers

Review by Laura Canning (February 2, 2005)

This and First Term are the best of the series (perhaps I just like reading about Darrell going mad and attacking people). Darrell is now head girl of her form, and the girls are working for the School Cert., a tough formal exam. Gwen is as bad as ever, and new girls once more provide a good deal of the action. In the Upper Fourth, the new girls are Clarissa Carter, and twins Connie and Ruth. Darrell's young sister Felicity joins the school for the first time, as does Alicia's cheeky young cousin June. Like Darrell in her first term with Alicia, Felicity admires the 'daredevil, cocksure' June and wants to be her Friend. Darrell, now a sensible head girl, tries to discourage the friendship. But June has other ideas...

Connie and Ruth join the school at the start of the term, and the girls quickly notice that Connie is by far the most dominant twin. Ruth in fact hardly says anything and when she tries, Connie finishes her sentences. But the girls, while thinking this is a bit unhealthy, don't try to interfere too much.

Another new girl arrives after the term has started. Alas for her, Gwendoline has spied a letter for her, addressed to 'The Honourable Clarissa Carter'. Aha, thinks Gwen, another chance to have a rich friend I can stay with in the Hols.

Clarissa arrives, and at first Gwen is disappointed. She is mousy and meek looking, and (horrors!), wears thick glasses and dental braces. But an Honourable is an Honourable, and Gwen soon muscles in. Almost as good as Clarissa's wealth, Gwen thinks, is that she has a weak heart and must be excused games and swimming. No forced dips in the freezing pool! Gwen's mind begins to tick...

The girls become a little concerned at Gwen and Clarissa's friendship, knowing Gwen is telling tales of previous terms—Darrell slapping her in the pool, Ellen trying to cheat, Bill constantly disobeying Miss Peters, Daphne stealing...poor Clarissa starts to think that Malory Towers is a hotbed for thieves, cheats and idiots. Darrell expresses her concern and Alicia is quick to get a dig in about it—do something, you're head girl, aren't you?

While Clarissa is still in Gwen's clutches, the girls decide to go on a walk and picnic to have a break from their studying. Clarissa says that her own nurse lives near the hill the girls are intending to have their picnic on. Gwen is delighted—she can get out of climbing the hill and eat indoors without those nasty insects biting at her. Clarissa asks her nurse if they can come to tea. But when they get there, they find that Nurse thought the whole class was coming and she has prepared a spread accordingly. What a waste of food! Clarissa thinks. Then the girls have the idea of bringing all the food back to the school and having a midnight feast. They enlist the help of their classmates and the food is hidden near the pool. The weather is hot, so the girls will have a midnight swim before eating.

But Alicia is plotting. Her best friend Betty is from West Tower, and one of the strictest rules at Malory Towers is that girls cannot leave their towers at night to meet friends from other towers. Alicia hatches a plan—Betty should come down to the pool after midnight and say she heard noises; once there, the girls can hardly not invite her to join the feast.

The feast at first goes to plan. Betty and two friends turn up, much to the discomfort of Darrell who knows the rules full well and also knows that if they are caught she must take responsibility. Then the English weather kicks in and it starts raining, so they move indoors. The room furthest away from the mistresses is, oddly, the first form common room, so in the Upper Fourth troop. Darrell is even more uncomfortable now, but feels she can't ask the West Tower girls to leave. Then they hear a soft tapping at the door...

The irrepressible June has found out about the feast and is out of bed with a reluctant Felicity, trying to spy. As luck would have it, June finds a hard-boiled egg on the floor and brazenly decides to return it. When the scared fourth formers open the door, June saunters in and starts eating the egg while she is talking to them. Oops. Well, she may as well finish it now...and why not sit down? Poor Darrell is very miserable, knowing there will be big trouble if girls from another tower and first formers are caught with them.

Not much gets past Miss Potts, and the next day a scared Felicity comes to tell Darrell that crumbs and a ginger beer bottle found under the sofa are being held in evidence. June apparently is thinking of going to Miss Potts and telling all. Darrell rushes off to find her.

June is in the music room, infuriatingly playing a little scale on the piano and not looking at Darrell. I feel guilty, ses June, and I must go to Miss Potts and own up. Darrell knows June is just trying to get her in trouble, and once more the famous temper rises. She grabs June, pulls her off the piano stool, and starts shaking her. Enter Miss Potts. Darrell resigns as head girl.

June is delighted with herself and boasts to the first form and to Felicity. But she has forgotten that Darrell is Felicity's sister, and their friendship is over. Felicity becomes friends with sensible Susan instead.

Half term sees Gwen trying to convince her parents that she has a weak heart, and she is furious with Clarissa when Clarissa cannot lie for her. She decides to drop Clarissa as a friend, particularly as a dowdy woman in an old car, presumably Clarissa's mother, arrives to take Clarissa out. Gwen's plan is saved when good old Mam'zelle arrives and spills the beans. Gwen is immediately removed from school.

The pressure of the exam is on now, and Alicia is driving everyone mad with her casual attitude. Connie loses it with her, and Alicia is for once taken aback. But when the exam weeks start, Alicia finds to her horror that she can't do any of the papers. Her head feels 'woolly' and she can't concentrate. Is this a punishment for laughing at people who are not as clever as she? On the last day of the exam she faints and is taken to the San., where Matron tells her she has measles. Alicia is relieved, but does take the point and resolves to be more kind in future.

Just before the exam starts, a tearful Gwen arrives back. Her doctor saw through her little ruse and told her father about it, so she must take the exam. Even worse, the doctor says Gwen is too fat and so must take more exercise—and do plenty of swimming!

After the exam, trouble starts for Connie. Her books go missing and her riding whip is found ruined. In a flash of insight, Darrell realises it is Ruth doing these things, and she goes to talk to her. Ruth says she both loves and hates Connie, and that Connie asked her to fail the School Cert. on purpose, since Connie was certain to fail. Darrell goes to Miss Grayling, who recognizes the danger in the situation and tells Darrell that she is now head girl again. It will probably be fine with Connie and Ruth—Ruth did not do as badly in the exam as she thought.

Bill becomes friendly with Clarissa, and the two discover a shared obsession with horses. Gwen doesn't really mind after seeing Clarissa's scruffy mother at half term. But as the term ends, Gwen once more is taught a lesson (whether she actually learns it or not is doubtful), as a shiny people in a shining car prove to be Clarissa's parents. Gwen is left alone again...