“Mean Girls meets We Were Liars in this compelling, cat-and-mouse thriller” (Lisa Gardner, New York Times bestselling author) set in a boarding school where secrets are devastating—and deadly.
When Sarah Taylor arrives at the exclusive St. Ambrose School, she’s carrying more baggage than just her suitcase. She knows she’s not like the other girls—if her shabby, all-black, non-designer clothes don’t give that away, the bottle of lithium hidden in her desk drawer sure does.
St. Ambrose’s queen bee, Greta Stanhope, picks Sarah as a target from day one, and she is relentless in making sure Sarah knows what the pecking order is. Thankfully, Sarah makes an ally out of her roommate Ellen “Strots” Strotsberry, a cigarette-smoking, devil-may-care athlete who takes no bullcrap. Also down the hall is Nick Hollis, the devastatingly handsome RA, and the object of more than one St. Ambrose student’s fantasies. Between Strots and Nick, Sarah hopes she can make it through the semester, dealing with not only her schoolwork and a recent bipolar diagnosis, but Greta’s increasingly malicious pranks.
Sarah is determined not to give Greta the satisfaction of breaking her. But when scandal unfolds, and someone ends up dead, her world threatens to unravel in ways she could never have imagined in this delicious, “riveting, twisty read” (Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author) that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
Reading Group Guide
Get a FREE ebook by joining our mailing list today! Plus, receive recommendations for your next Book Club read.
This reading group guide for The St. Ambrose School for Girls includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Heathers meets The Secret History in this thrilling coming-of-age novel set in a boarding school where the secrets are devastating—and deadly.
When Sarah Taylor arrives at the exclusive St. Ambrose School, she’s carrying more baggage than just what fits in her suitcase. She knows she’s not like the other girls—if her shabby, all-black, non-designer clothes don’t give that away, the bottle of lithium hidden in her desk drawer sure does.
St. Ambrose’s queen bee, Greta Stanhope, picks Sarah as a target from day one—and the most popular, powerful, horrible girl at school is relentless in making sure Sarah knows what the pecking order is. Thankfully, Sarah makes allies out of her roommate, Ellen “Strots” Strotsberry, a cigarette-puffing, devil-may-care athlete who doesn’t take crap from anybody, and Nick Hollis, the devastatingly handsome RA, who is the object of more than one St. Ambrose student’s fantasies. With Strots and Nick on her side, Sarah hopes she can make it through the semester, dealing not only with her schoolwork and a recent bipolar diagnosis, but Greta’s increasingly malicious pranks.
Sarah is determined not to give Greta the satisfaction of breaking her. But when scandal unfolds, and someone ends up dead, her world threatens to unravel in ways she never could have imagined. The St. Ambrose School for Girls is a dangerous, delicious, twisty coming-of-age tale that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. On page 9, Sarah’s mother drops her off at St. Ambrose: “Then she waves at me with her cigarette and I step back to watch the Mercury pull away.” Do you remember the moment your family first dropped you off at school (whether high school or college)? What sights and sounds stand out most in your memory? What feelings did you have?
2. Sarah and Strots appear to be an unlikely duo upon their first meeting, with Sarah’s social awkwardness a direct contrast to her roommate’s sporty confidence. How did you predict their relationship will evolve throughout the book?
3. On page 75, Sarah tells Strots about Greta’s bullying, and contrary to what she expects, Strots believes her wholeheartedly. Sarah is floored: “This is such a relief that I blink fast.” Think of a time when you have found solace in a friend’s comfort, or been able to provide comfort and support to someone else during a difficult time. Why are bonding moments like these so important, especially during teenage years?
4. How do the dynamics of the Mountain Day football game reflect the character dynamics in the book as a whole? For example, what does Sarah’s game-ending play reveal about her relationship with Greta and the rest of the characters?
5. Sarah lives with bipolar disorder, and her narration lays bare the thought patterns that wind through her darkest moments. What was your experience reading these pages and stepping into Sarah’s world?
6. The CVS employees have a tremendous effect on Sarah’s life, from Margie’s and Roni’s kindness with the clothing dye to Phil’s intervention on a later trip. What does their influence suggest about the importance—and prevalence—of community in the book?
7. Nick Hollis, an authority figure in the dorm, exhibits questionable behavior toward the girls on his floor, while providing Sarah with a trusted outlet after a dark moment. How does his character change as the book goes on, and how does Sarah’s view of him change as she learns new information about him?
8. Tera Taylor, Sarah’s mom, returns to St. Ambrose in chapter 15. How do her interactions with Sarah compare and contrast with her actions on drop-off day? What does this suggest about Tera’s character as a whole?
9. There are a few characters in this book whose actions have harmful consequences. Who would you characterize as the book’s true villain, if there is one?
10. The book contains a surprising, whirlwind ending. As you neared the end of the book, what were your predictions for what would happen? How close were you to discovering the truth?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. This book is set in a high school where social dynamics and fitting in are key stressors for our protagonist. Write a letter to your high school self, addressing some of the social anxieties you may have been feeling at the time.
2. Music is mentioned throughout the book to create a sensory picture of the characters and time period. Create a playlist with some of the artists mentioned, such as Boyz II Men, Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana, Mariah Carey, etc. How would this soundscape have affected your reading experience?
3. This story is told from Sarah’s perspective, and some of the most moving passages are written as her stream of consciousness, making the emotions even more stirring for the reader. Set a timer for three minutes and write out your own thoughts, stream-of-consciousness style, without pausing between ideas or sentences. Reflect on the experience with your book club.
Jessica Ward is a pseudonym for the #1 New York Times bestselling author who writes as J.R. Ward and has over twenty million copies in print. She enjoys spending time in the Adirondacks and lives in the south with her family and her dogs.
J.R. Ward is the author of more than sixty novels, including those in her #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series. There are more than twenty million copies of her novels in print worldwide, and they have been published in twenty-seven different countries. She lives in the south with her family.
“Completely original, quietly chilling. Mean Girls meets We Were Liars in this compelling, cat-and-mouse thriller featuring enemies made, secrets kept, and tables turned.” —Lisa Gardner, New York Times bestselling author of One Step Too Far
* "Mental health, friendship, loyalty, jealousy, corruption, and love all have a place in this highly recommended novel that takes readers on a roller-coaster of events and emotions that the characters experience." --Library Journal, starred review
“A complex psychological thriller.” --CrimeReads
"Ward tells the story of a vulnerable teen struggling to fit in at a tony boarding school with deep compassion and a lyrical ferocity. A riveting, twisty read." —Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Magnolia Palace
“An intricate, unflinching portrait of growing up, fitting in, and speaking out. The St. Ambrose School for Girls is both a taut thriller and a study on the intensity of teenage relationships and coming-of-age emotions. With its vivid campus setting, twisty mystery, and cast of complicated female characters, this story will burrow into readers’ heads and stay there.” --Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, author of The Girls Are All So Nice Here
“A twisty, claustrophobic thriller...that readers who like a deep POV will enjoy." --Booklist
"Complex and gripping." --Kirkus
"The brilliant and oh-so-talented Jessica Ward (who also writes as JR Ward) explodes into the realm of literary suspense with the completely immersive and utterly propulsive THE ST. AMBROSE SCHOOL FOR GIRLS. A master class in voice--oh that voice!—and cinematic setting, I could not turn the pages fast enough, compelled to find out what happens to Sarah Taylor, Ward's unique and relatable 15-year old neurodivergent student who steps across the boundaries of an elite prep school and into mean girls, corruption, lust and murder. We journey toward truth, friendship, love and trust—seeing it all through the eyes of this instantly iconic young woman who understands the world in a “different” way. Haunting, terrifying, and ultimately redemptive, you will never look at your fifteen-year-old self the same way again. I adored this book! And I am telling everyone." --Hank Phillippi Ryan, USA Today bestselling author of THE HOUSE GUEST