Marissa Secreto ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Editor
An eighteenth century setting, a roguish young protagonist, alchemy, pirates, and so much more can be found in YA’s hottest summer read. Released June 27th, 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee has quickly captured the hearts of its readership and launched the novel onto the New York Times Bestseller List. This novel presents a fast-paced journey filled with witty dialogue and relevant social commentary. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue promises an uplifting yet heartfelt summer adventure.
The novel centers around its eccentric and hedonistic hero, Henry “Monty” Montague. Monty comes from an upper class, privileged family whose estate he is meant to manage once he reaches adulthood. However, Monty prefers the simpler pleasures of life. He can be found frequenting gambling halls or falling readily into the arms of many different women and men.
As one final frivolous engagement before adulthood, Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe along with his best friend, Percy. Monty believes that the most difficult parts of his tour will be how to find the next party and how to hide his romantic feelings for Percy. One misstep though, and Monty’s tour suddenly turns into a thrilling chase across Europe that threatens everything Monty holds dear, including his relationship with Percy.
The strongest point of the novel falls into the hands of its narrative voice and its protagonist, Monty. Lee’s attempt to convey authentic eighteenth century dialect sometimes feels forced, but Monty’s own personal voice brightens the novel exceptionally. His clever one-liners and outrageous antics bring laugh-out-loud moments to a plot that also tries to tackle more serious issues. Monty is brutally true to himself, even when he must face situations that frighten him. His story arc from a foolish and naïve boy to a loyal and conscientious young man shows a fascinating display of character growth. Even if his character arc is predictable, his hero’s journey is authentic and ardent, just like Monty himself.
The novel also addresses social issues in a straightforward manner. With Monty being a bisexual man in an unaccepting era, Lee immediately presents LGBT issues and how they can be translated to the present day. While today’s world has more freedoms than that of the past, similar prejudices can still be found. Monty’s struggle to find acceptance can easily be relatable to youth of today.
Lee, however, does not stop there. She also provides social commentary on race, particularly through Monty’s friend and crush, Percy. Percy’s skin color is frequently noted upon and so, once again, Lee presents modern day controversies in a historical context. Aspects of ableism and feminism are also brought into light, and Lee does her best to present each of these issues as honestly as possible.
In light of today’s trending hashtag on social media, #OwnVoices, some have been critical of the portrayal of minorities in Lee’s novel. However, Lee’s attempt of all-inclusive representation in many different spectrums is commendable, even if it is not always a strictly personal voice for her.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue entices readers with a riveting adventure story and sincere narrative. Fans of historical fiction or contemporary YA works, such as Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, alike can fall in love with Monty and his struggle to remain genuine to himself in a time period that condemned true authenticity.