Title: Bad Behaviour
Author: Rebecca Starford
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Publication Date: 25th February 2015
Rating: 3/5 stars
It was supposed to be a place where teenagers would learn resilience, confidence and independence, where long hikes and runs in the bush would make their bodies strong and foster a connection with the natural world. Living in bare wooden huts, cut off from the outside world, the students would experience a very different kind of schooling, one intended to have a strong influence over the kind of adults they would become.
Fourteen-year-old Rebecca Starford spent a year at this school in the bush. In her boarding house fifteen girls were lift largely unsupervised, a combination of the worst behaved students and some of the most socially vulnerable. As everyone tried to fit in and cope with their feelings of isolation and homesickness, Rebecca found herself joining ranks with the powerful girls, and participating in various forms of bullying and aggresion. Increasingly horrified at her own behaviour, Rebecca soon found herself excluded from this group and subjected to bullying herself.
Bad Behaviour tells the story of that year, a time of friendship and joy, but also of shame and fear. It explores how those crucial experiences affected Rebecca as an adult and shaped her future relationships, and asks courageous questions about the nature of female friendship. Moving, wise and painfully honest, this extraordinary memoir shows how bad behaviour from childhood, in all its forms, can be so often and so easily repeated throughout our adult lives.
You don’t see many biographies about boarding schools so this piqued my interest. Like Rebecca Starford, I also went to boarding school – though mine was hardly in the bush. The school Starford mentions, Silver Creek, has been identified by some as the Timbertop campus of Geelong Grammar, a school which boasts Prince Charles as one of its alumni.
The story was written in parallels, memories of her time at the school and Rebecca’s visit back as an adult, reminiscing about her life since school. I quite liked this set-up. The pacing was good and I didn’t get sick of either storyline. However, the immediacy of the adolescent voice was more compelling than the slow, considered pace of the adult.
I was expecting a book about the dynamics of boarding school life – and I got a little bit of that. What I wasn’t expecting was an analysis of Starford’s sexuality and how her all-girl boarding school experiences screwed her up as she came to realise that she was attracted to women. Had the blurb expressed that the book also explored her ‘burgeoning sexuality’ or something of the sort, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. I was more interested in the boarding school experience the blurb indicated and didn’t get what I wanted from the book. While Starford’s analyses of her relationships and how her schooling affected them was intriguing and considered, it wasn’t what I expected from the book and was thus a little disappointing.
Another problem I had with the book was that the prologue remained unresolved. In the first two pages, a girl is being bullied so badly that she sprays herself with a can of Impulse and sets herself alight. It was an incredibly intense scene, and I thought that the bullying in the book itself might build up to that moment. Unfortunately that moment was not mentioned again. The character was subjected to incredibly harsh bullying and, if the scene truly happened, it would have been nice to see the aftermath and how or if it affected any of the girls in the dorm.
I still very much enjoyed the book, but feel deceived by the blurb. I was expecting to see more of the power dynamics in an all-female boarding environment and less of Starford’s adult life. While I still enjoyed the book as a whole, I was left feeling unsatisfied, like there was something missing from the narration.