Things A Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls
Two Young Adult books about women's suffrage in as many weeks is just wonderful stuff. And hot on the heels of last week's enjoyment of Anna Carey's excellent The Making of Mollie comes Sally Nicholls' Things A Bright Girl Can Do, which steps things up a gear and moves us on a few years in terms of age range.
From the blurb:
"Evelyn is seventeen, and though she is rich and clever, she may never be allowed to follow her older brother to university. Enraged that she is expected to marry her childhood sweetheart rather than be educated, she joins the Suffragettes, and vows to pay the ultimate price for women's freedom.
I loved everything about Sally's new book. Our three sheroes are all well-rounded, engaging and involved characters and involve none of the stereotypes that some previous suffrage novels have fallen into (and which I grumbled about in my post about Anna's book). Instead, Sally gives us raw and gritty depictions of the realities of suffrage campaigning on the eve of the war and into the war, leading to perspectives I've never previously seen in suffrage literature.
For example, while Evelyn is arrested for her suffragette militancy, it is the depiction of hunger and particularly thirst strike that dominates the description of her prison stay. Indeed, the harrowing explanation of the damage that six days of thirst striking can do to the body was both compulsive and repulsive in its reading, and is not something I've seen in other suffrage novels which have instead favoured the more conventional graphic depiction of force feeding.
Another good example is the peaceful campaigning of Quaker May and her mother. May's mother has refused to pay her taxes in common with many suffragettes and suffragists who wouldn't pay taxation without representation. But while popular history has us believing that suffrage campaigning ended the second war was declared, May and her mother show us how untrue this was. Through their characters we are also shown the bitterness that many campaigners felt at the volte-face shown by leaders Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett in their support of the war. Instead, May's mother continues to refuse to pay her taxes well into the war... to the point that the bailiffs come round and not only take away all of their possessions, but also move in with the women for six weeks beforehand. Just startling.
And to have teenage lesbian romance written about without fuss is also highly commended, as is Nell's insistence on wearing men's clothes because she prefers them even though she is jeered at and ridiculed for it.
Things A Bright Girl Can Do is utterly wonderful, hopeful and inspiring. Please buy it, read it and share it.