Author: Kate Brian
Genre: YA Mystery
Publication Date: July 1, 2006
Tradition, Honor, Excellence… and secrets so dark they’re almost invisible
Fifteen-year-old Reed Brennan wins a scholarship to Easton Academy—the golden ticket away from her pill-popping mother and run-of-the-mill suburban life. But when she arrives on the beautiful, tradition-steeped campus of Easton, everyone is just a bit more sophisticated, a bit more gorgeous, and a lot wealthier than she ever thought possible. Reed realizes that even though she has been accepted to Easton, Easton has not accepted her. She feels like she’s on the outside, looking in.
Until she meets the Billings Girls.
They are the most beautiful, intelligent, and intensely confident girls on campus. And they know it. They hold all the power in a world where power is fleeting but means everything. Reed vows to do whatever it takes to be accepted into their inner circle.
Reed uses every part of herself—the good, the bad, the beautiful—to get closer to the Billings Girls. She quickly discovers that inside their secret parties and mountains of attitude, hanging in their designer clothing-packed closets the Billings Girls have skeletons. And they’ll do anything to keep their secrets private.
Disclaimer: minor spoilers (only in relation to problematic content)
Reed Brennan is a suburban scholarship student beginning her Sophomore year at Easton Academy. She is excited for this fresh start away from her pill-addicted mother and complacent father. Unfortunately, she finds that it’ll take much more to belong at Easton Academy than just stepping onto its manicured lawns.
Soon after starting, Reed finds herself attracted to the Billings girls—particularly Noelle, Ariana, Kiran, and Taylor—upperclassmen who seem to have it all. Popular. Rich. Smart. Reed decides she will do whatever it takes to be one of them. Meanwhile, due to an incident, the Billings girls have decided that they want nothing to do with Reed and name call her. Even so, Reed is persistent.
So the Billings girls decide to test how far Reed will go. Noelle and her friends ask Reed to do harmless things such as fetching them food or running errands for them. They keep calling her names, mainly “glass-licker.” At first, I couldn’t judge Reed harshly. I think a lot of us would do similar things to belong. I could even understand and relate to Reed keeping her head down when they called her names or criticized her. I’ve been there and done that. When you don’t feel like you have anyone, even your family, you’re willing to tolerate others who are only your friends in name.
However, it quickly evolves into something less innocuous. In one instance, Reed is asked to deliver a harsh message on behalf of Noelle while pretending it came from Kiran. Reed is also asked to steal an answer key for a test. Noelle and her friends also ask her to do something to get a teacher fired. There may have been more. Even if there wasn’t, there’s a clear power imbalance between Reed and Noelle’s friends—and they clearly abuse it.
You may note that I never refer to Noelle, Kiran, Taylor, and Ariana as Reed’s friends. They aren’t. Reed may consider them such, but their actions show that they don’t feel the same way about her.
As if that’s not enough, there’s another awful person in Reed’s life: Thomas, her crush and the person she’s kind of dating. (His behavior makes it unclear, especially that ending.) Thomas is first introduced as a mysterious and aloof Senior. Throughout Reed and Thoma’s short relationship, however, we find that not only does he have problems with alcohol but also with his anger. We quickly realize that he has more secrets and problems than he is willing to admit.
There is even a point where Thomas tries to force himself on Reed. Not only did he not ask for her consent, but the place and time were inappropriate—especially since they had just had a fight. It took a lot for Reed to push him off of her. Even then, Thomas retorted and pushed her back, causing Reed to sprain her ankle.
I will say a lot of things about Noelle and her friends but at least in this instance, they did support Reed when she needed it. They make sure she gets to her dorm safely. They even warn Reed to stay far away from Thomas, for obvious reasons. (Not that she does but at least they tried.)
We are told that Reed is smart—hence her scholarship. However, Reed consistently makes half-assed decisions primarily led by her desire to be a Billings girl and/or Thomas’s girlfriend.
It is ridiculous. Both Noelle and Thomas have told her she has to pick one or the other; still Reed tries to have both but is somehow surprised when it backfires. (Neither people she’s pursuing are even good for her!)
The thing that frustrated me most is that Reed had the opportunity to have decent friends (such as her roommate) and an average existence at Easton Academy. Instead, she chose to pursue people who are no good for her. People who distract her from maintaining her scholarship and succeeding at school. People who only mess with her mentally. It is these people that Reed gives a second (and third) chance despite them being unwilling to change.
Even though I wanted to DNF, I continued to read because I hoped that there were some redeeming qualities about this book. Unfortunately, there were none. Private is a shoddy attempt at a boarding-school drama with a non-existent plot, underdeveloped characters, and no problematic relationships. You are better off passing on this book (and series).