Sunday, 12 November 2017

'The Making of Mollie' by Anna Carey

If there's one thing I am guaranteed to love, it is a novel about the suffrage era. Especially those novels aimed at younger readers, because I am passionate that children should be taught about this important and exciting part of our not-so-distant history. So I was delighted to come across Anna Carey's 2016 novel The Making of Mollie. (I'm no expert on guessing the appropriate age range for kids' books but, given our shero is 14, I'd suggest that's about the right age range for younger readers - although I'm nearly 40 and I also loved it). 

Dublin-based Anna is already a well-established children's author thanks to her popular Rebecca series, for which she has won at the Irish Book Awards. But Mollie is her first piece of historical fiction. You wouldn't know it, though. 

There are many reasons I loved reading Mollie but the absolute number one reason is that it doesn't follow the very well trodden path that so many other suffrage books have. So before I tell you what Mollie is, I will reassure you about what she is not. Mollie is not a working-class girl who meets a middle-class lady who educates her about suffrage; she does not suddenly make friends with Mrs Pankhurst (who was presumably less accessible than the novels suggest); and she does not go to prison and endure a graphic episode of force-feeding. Thank goodness.

Instead, here is what Mollie is. This is a really engaging book written in the form of letters from a schoolgirl to a friend, and our shero is instantly likeable and warm. The period in the book only spans a few months and arguably nothing hugely significant happens (as in, Mollie doesn't do outrageously militant acts, she doesn't get arrested, her parents don't disown her), but because of this it is so much more believable. 

You believe that Mollie and her friend Nora were real people, and that there were hundreds of young girls like them who did exactly the same sort of stunts to feel part of an adult movement. You believe that Mollie existed in Dublin and plucked up the courage to chalk pavements after school and sneak her way out of the house to attend impassioned meetings. You believe that Mollie is real. And that's what makes Mollie stand out from so much other suffrage fiction. Hurray.

I also loved that fact that this book is set in Dublin, and the focus is away from the Women's Social and Political Union and the Pankhurst family and instead is on the Irish Women's Franchise League and its leader Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington (of whom I did not previously know). Anna has used several real-life Dublin suffrage events as anchors around which to pin her story and characters, and it works like a charm. The end result is I plan to go away and find out more about suffrage in Ireland (and surely that's a great result for any author, to inspire her readers to read more).

There is so much to praise about this book, so I urge you to buy a copy for the young teenagers in your life and also a copy for yourself. 

The best news of all is that, judging from Anna's recent tweets, it looks like it won't be too long before another Mollie book hits our shelves. And I, for one, cannot wait. Deeds not words.

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