Seeing this is 'Whit' bank holiday I thought I'd write another shortish book review.
Following on The New Girl and Nancy, this installment is set at the start of the Autumn term with Nancy being moved to the Upper Fifth Form with Desda (Desdemona) Blackett which is seen as being a more dull but worthy form more centred around academic work.
It is soon resolved however to do something about this not least by making a AM. group which is really an Amateur Dramatics and Arts group where they'd study to put on short productions, recitals and undertake some games.
Followers of the previous entries might recall this series started not at Maudsley Grammar school but at St. Brides and this past of Nancy's is a key theme in this edition as we are reintroduced to Althea who we learn has moved to Maudsley in somewhat distressing circumstances, her mothers ill health and given the era we are is the nineteen-twenties there is no Welfare State, they ate in a state of acute poverty where Althea and her mother at at risk of losing their rented home and from which Althea has had to leave St. Brides because of being unable pay the school fees.
Nancy's after school life involves her being in charge of ("Maid of Merit") of the Guildry where the adult Miss Knevitt, is talking about setting up a new unit and that it would involve some changes in unit leaders including Nancy.
It was coming back from a meeting where this was being discussed that Nancy hears a flute being played as it happened rather well and upon coming across her realizes this is her lost friend from St.Brides who is malnourished and Nancy takes her to a cafe for a drink and food and soon realizes things are very bleak.
Disturbed by this, she takes a long detour to Lord Woodridge a local land owner and 'big cheese' of the town and discussed her friend and mothers plight with him suggesting with his mothers knowledge of nature that an offer of the post of Curator of a museum he is about to open soon be given to her and with it a place to stay.
Like many of her generation Althea's mother would feel they could not just accept a place out of charity, it would have to be seen as being in exchange for her services and this way is accepted by him.
Equally Althea herself needs to continue in her education but there is a stumbling block which is that while a 'scholarship' can be issued for any form it is not generally accepted for 'upper school' which is where she belongs but it is in his remit to award one he does and so Althea now goes to Maudsley Grammar in the upper fifth like Nancy.
Unfortunately, a small rather voracious group of girls lead by Elma hold to the notion that having a Free Scholar rather lowers the tone especially one held to do something vulgar like play a flute for money even though Althea only did this to raise money where her Mom was down to her last three pence and facing eviction and make things difficult by having so they would not play games with her so she helps the Fourth and lower Fifth out instead and having made a big deal in bring her poverty stricken flute playing out so embarrasses her that an offer to join the AM. for which she has considerable talents is just too embarrassing for her to take up.
In time however Althea joins the Guildry, just at the point Nancy is pondering a change to the 2nd new unit as it's leader so she feels supported although the behaviour of those other girls is really bad.
Just before the Museum is about to open and Althea's Mom has moved in, a mysterious Japanese man comes in a demanding a Cedar tree that her Mom refused to sell, refusing to leave until he's gotten it. Nancy and Althea trap him and just by luck Lord Woodridge comes by and has him arrested. It transpires what was so desirable about the tree was a Crystal which was buried beneath it as an insurance against hard times for Althea's Mom.
Althea's new found status as an heiress impresses those who so rejected her as the Free Scholar, the shallow meanness thereof not lost on Nancy and clearly transmitted in the book to the reader.
A area competition for the arts is held called the Rosebury Festival and Nancy's name is put forward as a soloist but Nancy feels strongly this is Althea's time and so puts forward to the Head Mistress that really a change of entry to Althea is really called for as her skills as flautist are the stronger but she'd accompany on piano.
This is accepted so the pair go in the competition judged at City Hall and Althea wins the gold medal and Nancy awarded a special commendation for the accompanying so the pair have brought honour upon their form and school.
Although in some respects it's a relatively simple book in the series, I think it's strengths are that it tackles head on social prejudice, and poverty in a compassionate, thoughtful way that reminds me very much of what it felt like being 14 or 15 felt like, caring deeply about issues and each other, wanting to help in the way Nancy did her friend and mother, trying to make a difference for the good.
Making a stand for decency, treating people fairly are important lessons we need to learn to keep our society holding to civilized values.