Title: Lessons at the School by the Sea
Series: Maggie Adair / Little School by the Sea
Author: Jenny Colgan
Narrator: Alex Tregear
Publication date: Originally published 2018; reissued 2023
Print length: 304 pages
Audio length: 7 hours, 6 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased (audiobook); E-book ARC from the publisher/NetGalley
The summer holiday brings new passion and new challenges in the enchanting third book of Jenny Colgan’s utterly delightful School by the Sea series, set at a girls’ boarding school in Cornwall.
School is out, following a bit of saucy scandal at Downey House…
Beloved high school teacher Maggie Adair had been comfortably, if somewhat ambivalently, engaged to her dependable long-distance boyfriend Stan. But in the heat of summer, Maggie’s attraction to her colleague David McDonald has caught fire. Now both are facing an uncertain future as they try to figure out how to stay committed to their careers–and each other.
Meanwhile, the girls of Downey House–mercurial Fliss, glamorous Alice, and shy, hard-working Simone–have had long summers at home, which weren’t quite the respite they had been hoping for. But the new school year is thankfully here, and it will bring new pupils and lots of fresh challenges for students and teachers alike at the school by the sea.
Welcome back to the School by the Sea! This charming series focuses on Maggie Adair, a dedicated teacher from Glasgow who takes a job teaching English at a posh boarding school in Devon. Three books into the series, we’ve seen Maggie grow into her role and truly make a difference in the lives of her students… as well as struggle to reconcile her engagement to her long-term boyfriend with her growing feelings for the sensitive, handsome English teacher over at the boys’ school.
Book #3, Lessons at the School by the Sea, picks up immediately after the ending of the 2nd book, which ended (spoilers for those who haven’t read it!) with a scandalous scene at a train station, as David attempts to make a grand romantic gesture while Maggie’s train is leaving the station, and Maggie (inadvisably) pulls the emergency brake. Oh dear.
As we return to the scene of their fairly mild crime, both Maggie and David are in quite a bit of trouble, facing possible criminal charges and (even worse!) the shame of bringing embarrassment to Downey House. The only solution is separation — David loses his job, and Maggie is allowed to stay on, but with the stipulation that the two must have no contact.
Needless to say, Maggie is somewhat despondent when the new school term starts in the fall, and she’s not the only one. A new year means new worries and drama among the school girls as well, and even the headmistress has her own personal life complications to sort out.
It’s all quite sweet and lovely, entertaining in a gentle sort of ultra-British way. For American readers, the ins and outs of boarding school life may seem somewhat impenetrable (although at least we have some exposure from other pop culture — it’s like Hogwarts minus magic, but with social media).
Speaking of social media — about ten years elapsed between the publishing of the second and third books, even though the books’ timeline is a seamless continuation. So, it’s a little jarring in book #3 to suddenly see the students obsessed with their phones, wifi access, Snapchat, Insta, and social media gossip. The author does a good job of weaving all this into the ongoing story, but as readers, we do sort of have to pretend that they’ve had this stuff all along.
The series as a whole is quite fun, and I love how well we get to know all the characters, adults and teens. This volume seems to spend a bit less time on the girls’ part of the story, but that’s okay — I was more invested in Maggie and David’s story than the rest, although I did enjoy it all.
Another thing I really appreciate about these books is how lovingly the value of education, and especially literature, is portrayed. Maggie and David both enrich their students’ lives through their commitment and compassion, but also because they so carefully and consciously choose literature that both challenges and enriches their students.
Hmmm — many of Jenny Colgan’s other books include recipes. The School by the Sea books should include reading lists!
The author mentions in her introduction that she’s envisioned this as a six-book series. Yes, please! While I don’t see anything on her website yet that says that there will be more, a reader can always hope.