In The Boarding School by Lidiya Charskaya, the main character, Mila is alone for the first time. Actually she is not completely alone, as she is surrounded by classmates, teachers and the boarding school staff, but what matters is that she feels alone.

This important feeling, feeling alone, is probably the point where childhood ends. When Mila, a.k.a. Jackdaw, is eleven, she is taken out of her family, out of the world she had been living in, and brought to a place where everything is unfamiliar and nobody is known to her.

Along with the painful feelings of being alone, she is about to encounter many other things for the first time: friendship and rivalry, betrayal and faithfulness, jealousy and compassion. The way she handles those things, as she first faces them, will affect her entire life.

As a coming of age book, The Boarding School is in many ways a story of growing up. This process can be painful as well as exciting; usually it is both. Such stories may describe painful experiences and exciting discoveries (which may actually be quite interesting and are well-told enough to make the story a good story). What matters the most in these stories, though, is not the description, but the insight into how a child struggles through changes and challenges, what choices they make in leaving the age of innocence, and how they shape their future adult lives in these early stages.

Mila surely learns a number of lessons as she finds her real friend, has the first fight with her, is used by other girls, learns to speak out, etc. As the story unfolds, the reader observes what values the heroine is taught to appreciate. For example, she approves of her newly-found friend Nina for being courageous and proud and disapproves of her classmate Baby for being hypocritical and manipulative.

The most interesting thing that the young protagonist learns to value is her own vulnerability. After losing her closest people, Mila understands that she must not let her heart harden; otherwise, she will lose herself too.

Vulnerability is a tricky concept. Researcher Brené Brown spent six years of research and a year of therapy in her vulnerability studies, and her conclusion was that embracing vulnerability, as opposed to numbing it, is the way to a happy, whole-hearted life.

Brené Brown divided her respondents into those who struggled for a feeling of worthiness and those who believed they were worthy. What she discovered was that people who struggle for a feeling of worthiness tend to struggle with their vulnerability too, as they think it to be the source of shame and fear, i.e., a bad thing. People who believe they are worthy, on the other hand, accept their vulnerability.

Accepting vulnerability is the willingness to do something without any guarantee of success. It is saying “I love you” first. Brené Brown had to conclude then that vulnerability was not only the source of shame, but also the birthplace of joy, and love, and belonging.

The story of Mila appears to be an attractive story for young adults, especially in proclaiming vulnerability, openness and naivety to be valuable as opposed to cynicism and insensitivity. Managing to keep your vulnerability while painfully leaving the age of innocence means learning how to share joy, give and receive love, and be happy in the future.

About The Boarding School book (Buy Here)

“The popularity of Lidiya Charskaya (1875 – 1937) is an unprecedented phenomenon in pre-revolutionary Russian’s literature. For around fifteen years almost every work from her pen became a bestseller…

In Notes of a Boarding School Girl, Lyuda Vlassovskaya, a humble and kind-hearted orphan, arrives from Ukraine, and for the following seven years she is to be part of a female collective behind closed doors. The author takes a greater interest in the dynamic relationships between the girls than in a strong plot. A power structure, based upon both personal character and academic success, is established between the girls, and all newcomers have to pass through a disturbing process of adjustment. The emotional register is wide, as devotion alternates with contempt and hospitality, remorse leads to forgiveness, and shame gives way to a feeling of honor. Thoughtless pranks lead to misunderstandings and feuds, while dreams and superstitions give rise to mysterious visions and nocturnal adventures. The obligatory reconciliation between pupils is accompanied by tears and kisses. The cult of friendship is strong. The lonely girls have an acute need for a father figure, and while most of the teachers remain in the background, the priest stands out as an object of adoration. The Christmas and Easter services in the school’s chapel are eagerly anticipated events, while another highpoint is the annual visit by the Soverign Emperor and his consort.

As a counterpoint to the doleful Lyuda, Charskaya introduced Nina Dzhavakha, an enigmatic Caucasian girl. Proud and freedom-loving, Nina finds it difficult to adjust herself to a life of restrictions and regulations. This haughty newcomer with aristocratic pride nevertheless becomes the leader of the class and Lyuda’s closest friend. In a blantly melodramatic scene Nina dies at the boarding school, a pure heart-rending example of Romantic young death.”