“First of all, this is dark academia with a dash of mystery, some obsession, and a little sapphic yearning. Contrary to the cover copy, this is not Fight Club and its only real connection to The Girls is its naïve, readily-influenced, self-righteous protagonist. This falls more in line with Temple House Vanishing (which you should also read).
Virginia, our choir/cult leader, wants to be World Historical. She wants to do something big and great and be remembered for it. She worships a fascist because he died for what he believed in (and okay, he was on the wrong side but when you’re World Historical, does that matter?) and is a zealot. And Laura, our protagonist, worships Virgina.
In prose that reads best quickly and in a heightened state, where everything appears to matter more than it does, Burton succeeds in creating this sort of bubble that breeds such a cult leader and the cult’s followers.”
When shy, sensitive Laura Stearns arrives at St. Dunstan’s Academy in Maine, she dreams that life there will echo her favorite novel, All Before Them, the sole surviving piece of writing by Byronic “prep school prophet” (and St. Dunstan’s alum) Sebastian Webster, who died at nineteen, fighting in the Spanish Civil War. She soon finds the intensity she is looking for among the insular, Webster-worshipping members of the school’s chapel choir, which is presided over by the charismatic, neurotic, overachiever Virginia Strauss. Virginia is as fanatical about her newfound Christian faith as she is about the miles she runs every morning before dawn. She expects nothing short of perfection from herself—and from the members of the choir.
Virginia inducts the besotted Laura into a world of transcendent music and arcane ritual, illicit cliff-diving and midnight crypt visits: a world that, like Webster’s novels, finally seems to Laura to be full of meaning. But when a new school chaplain challenges Virginia’s hold on the “family” she has created, and Virginia’s efforts to wield her power become increasingly dangerous, Laura must decide how far she will let her devotion to Virginia go.
The World Cannot Give is a shocking meditation on the power, and danger, of wanting more from the world.