Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough (9780735232112)
This strong and intense verse novel tells the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, a painter born in sixteenth-century Rome. This fictional account is based on her true story of working in her father’s art studio and becoming more skilled than him in her late teens. As her father brought in a teacher for her, Artemisia first enjoyed his company and then it became something else entirely. Raped by her teacher, Artemisia has to decide whether to stay silent or try to fight back in the limited ways that she could. With her dead mother’s stories of two strong women from history to inspire her, Artemisia did accuse her rapist and found justice hard to come by but worth fighting for.
Told in Artemisia’s own voice, this verse novel is entirely captivating. Firmly feminist in tone and content, the reader learns not only of Artemisia but also of Judith and Susanna, two historical figures who found their own way to justice. Perfectly timed with the #MeToo movement, this novel calls for women to understand their own strength and find their own voices.
Throughout the book, even with the anger and aggravating unfairness of the time, the book has beautifully soft moments filled with art and creativity. Yet it is firmly footed in reality and doesn’t sugarcoat or turn away from impossible choices, horrible violence, and the importance of strength even when you feel weakest.
A necessary and vital call to action, this book shows that women have stood up all the way through history and their voices will not be ignored. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Dutton.
The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross (9780062471345)
Brienna has never known who her father is, only that he is from neighboring Maevana. When her grandfather takes her to Magnalia House and has her accepted as a student of passion, Brienna discovers a new home. Among the handful of other students, Brienna discovers sisters as well as her own interest in history. As Brienna gets ready to master her passion for knowledge and leave Magnalia House, her plans go awry and she doesn’t complete the graduation ceremony and find a patron. Instead, her flashbacks of memories from a mysterious ancestor tie her closely to those who would restore a queen to the throne of Maevana and dethrone the imposter king. As war brews, Brienna becomes the linchpin to a plan that takes her into the heart of her homeland of Maevana and the dangers of political intrigue generations in the making.
Ross has deftly woven a story set in medieval times with glimpses of magic. Her story is firmly feminist, calling for queens to sit on thrones, the power of magic in women’s hands, and the ability of women to create plans that are daring and effective. The world created here is tightly drawn, two neighboring nations with differences in cultures that come together in Brienna. Ross also incorporates the fall of a queen and the resulting ramifications of her loss. It’s beautifully drawn, some of it revealed only towards the end of the novel to complete the picture.
Brienna is an incredible protagonist. She is humble and yet clearly bright and gifted, just with different gifts than the school for passion may be looking for. Her ability to plot and plan, learn to use a sword, and adjust her reactions to political turns shows how clever she is. There is a lovely romantic tension in the book as well, kept quite proper and reserved and yet smoldering at the same time.
An intelligent and well crafted teen novel filled with political intrigue and a woman who will lead the way to change. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HarperTeen.
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (9781626726352)
Vivian hates her high school with its focus on football, a culture where the football players are kings and can do no wrong, and being harassed in the hallways. Inspired by a box of her mother’s mementos, Vivian who has never broken a rule, decides to start her own zine called Moxie. The zine calls at first for simple things like putting stars and hearts on your hands in support of girls. Along the way, Vivian starts to date Seth, a boy who just moved to town and is different from the others at her school. She also makes other new friends, who are drawn together thanks to Moxie. Soon Moxie takes on a life of its own and other girls are forming events using the name. But when one of her best friends is assaulted by a football player and the school does nothing, Vivian gets angrier and Moxie grows even stronger.
Mathieu has created a novel that is filled with a rage that girls should be feeling. The novel talks directly about the apathy that fills high school life, the unchanging feel of assignments and classes, of riding it out until you can finally graduate and escape. She challenges that, showing that small acts of civil disobedience can create a movement, that girls have power if they take it and that fighting back works. It’s a message that is raw and important, one that takes moxie to live out.
All of the characters in this novel are so fully formed and human. They make mistakes and learn from them. It’s a novel that celebrates that people can transform and get angry and that bravery can come from being part of a movement and insisting on being seen and heard. The book celebrates friendships of girls, new and old, and how those friendships can drift and change but still be strong in the end.
This book raises its voice for feminism and fighting back. It’s a book for all genders and all libraries. Appropriate for ages 13-17. (Reviewed from library copy.)
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (9780062382801, Amazon)
Excuse me as I completely gush about this book and insist that if you haven’t read it, you rush out and get a copy. Monty, his best friend Percy and his sister Felicity are sent to Europe on a Grand Tour. The Tour is part of Monty’s repairing of his reputation after a series of naughty escapades that got him expelled from school. His father completely disapproves of Monty’s lifestyle, particularly his love of other men. But the Tour doesn’t go as planned. Monty finds himself caught in a woman’s rooms wearing very little and is forced to dash from the palace nearly naked. And that’s just the first escapade. Soon Monty, Percy and Felicity are being chased across Europe with no money and no one to save them. It’s up to Monty, the sister he has despised for years and the boy he loves to figure out how to save themselves as the danger gets deadly.
I enjoyed this book at first but did not fall head over heels for it until the party was traveling with no money. The gilded beauty of the official Tour was fine but it was the real trouble that brought the book fully alive. Happily, that takes place early in the novel and then I could not stop reading. Lee takes on so many societal ills in this book that it is dizzying. While the book is set in the past, those ills are still at play today. Subjects like racism, sexism and LGBT rights are still key. This could have just been a lighthearted romp across Europe, but those themes anchor the book, give it weight and real meaning.
The characters are exceptionally drawn. Readers get to know them steadily through the book and they grow and change, revealing themselves to be multilayered and complex. The three main characters in particular are exceptionally drawn. Monty is a glorious rake, dashing and dimpled and yet far deeper than he gives himself credit for. Percy is the perfect foil for Monty, steady and full of grace. Felicity is feminism personified, calm under pressure but not too calm when kissed.
This is an exceptional teen novel and definitely one of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean edited by Kirsty Murray, Pagal Dhar and Anita Roy (9781481470575, Amazon)
This is an incredible collection of speculative short stories written by young adult authors from India and Australia. The authors worked in teams across the two countries, and the results are short stories, graphic shorts, and even a play. The quality of the collection is tremendous, showing a depth of understanding of what happens to women in our cultures and how that might play out in the future. There are stories where the women are in power and men are considered lesser, stories where women are just starting to take their rightful place, and others where the struggle is very much like it is today. Each has a ray of hope, a path forward if only we are brave enough to take it.
Readers of these short stories will love that the authors have longer books to explore. The voices here are rich and varied, still there is a sense of unity in this collection thanks to the overarching theme of women and girls and their rights. Make sure to read the final section of the book that speaks to the collaborations and how the authors worked together.
Entirely thoughtful, strongly progressive and profoundly feminist, this collection of short stories is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.
The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis (InfoSoup)
Alex has never been the same since her older sister was murdered three years earlier. She finally started to feel something when her sister’s killer went free. Alex’s response to that was vengeance and murder and now Alex knows that she can’t ever leave the small town she has grown up in since it would not be safe for those around her. She just wants to go through the rest of her life with her head down and not be noticed. Inadvertently though, she starts to make a friend. Peekay, short for Preacher’s Kid, volunteers at the animal shelter with Alex and slowly they become friends. Peekay enjoys drinking and fooling around and brings Alex into a social group where she had never belonged before. Meanwhile, Jack is finding it impossible to keep Alex out of his head despite the attentions of another girl who uses him on the side of her own relationship. Still, Alex may have been better off isolated as her violence starts to emerge again.
Wowza. This book blew me away from the aspects of both content and writing. McGinnis writes with a beauty that is surprising and enticing. Her words capture emotions with an intensity that has the reader feeling them at a visceral level. Here is Alex in Chapter 11 describing losing her sister:
It swings from twine embedded so deeply that my aorta has grown around it. Blood pulses past rope in the chambers of my heart, dragging away tiny fibers until my whole body is suffused and pain is all I am and ever can be.
McGinnis keeps her writing filled with tension, desire, understanding and amazement. She recognizes the incredible need for connection that we have even as we destroy as well. This is humanity on the page in all of its complexity.
It is also feminism, a feminism that burns and blazes, one that looks beyond makeup and clothing to the women and girls underneath. It is a feminism that speaks to the anger inside that wants to fight and battle the darkness in society, the brutality against women and the dangers that surround girls. And because it speaks clearly to that anger, it is breathtaking in its audaciousness, in the actions that Alex takes, and the bravery and violence she embodies.
Violent and beautiful, this novel is about the complexities of being female and alive. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from e-galley received from HarperCollins and Edelweiss.
Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber by Sue Macy, illustrated by C. F. Payne (InfoSoup)
Mary Garber was one of the first female sports journalists in the United States. At a time when women were not newspaper reporters, Mary was a sports reporter. Her big break came during World War II when the men were sent to war. After the war, Mary was moved to a news desk but then a year later permanent came back to sports. She was there to witness Jackie Robinson join the Brooklyn Dodgers. Mary herself was barred from the press box and forced to sit with the coaches’ wives rather than the other reporters until her editor complained. Locker rooms were also a challenge. Mary continued writing about sports for more than 50 years, retiring in 2002. Along the way she garnered awards and honors and a reputation for being fair and unbiased.
Macy captures the story of this groundbreaking woman beautifully. The tone is playful and humble with Garber’s quotes often given credit and thanks to others rather than taking praise for herself. At the same time, one understands the courage it took for Mary to continue doing this job in such a male-dominated field. This story is inspirational in the best possible way.
Payne’s illustrations add to the playful feel of the title and the humor. Mary is shown as very petite, dwarfed by those around her. Yet she is clearly the center of attention on the page, her face lit from within by her big eyes and large glasses. Her short hair and can-do attitude mark her uniquely on the page as well.
A great picture book biography to share with children who enjoy sports or writing. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Bloom by Doreen Cronin and David Small (InfoSoup)
Bloom was a fairy who dealt in dirt and plants. She could spin sand into glass and turn small amounts of water into rivers. She lived in a glass kingdom and as the years passed, the kingdom’s inhabitants only saw the mess that Bloom left behind with her mud and not the way that she helped. Bloom finally left and went to live in the forest. More years passed and the glass kingdom started to fall into disrepair. The king remembered the powerful fairy and went to seek her help, because such a creature could only be asked by a monarch. But when Bloom offered the king to save his kingdom with mud, the king stormed off. The queen tried too with similar effect. Finally, they decided that they must send someone ordinary to ask Bloom for help and so Genevieve was selected. It will take a girl working with a fairy to save the kingdom, but even more it will take getting dirty along the way.
Cronin has created a story that is surprising and delightful. This is a fairy tale where girls save the day rather than being rescued by princes. It reads like a traditional fairy tale but with a feminist viewpoint that is not overplayed at all. There is also a beautiful attitude about getting your hands dirty and the fact that hard work is the way to solve problems along with working together.
Small’s illustrations are playful with delicate lines that swoop on the page. They are alive with action, particularly when Bloom is on the page. Small captures the delight of mud and getting dirty, the connection of the two girls, and the efforts that it takes to rebuild a kingdom even with magic. I must also mention the text design, which makes the book a joy to read aloud, creating real feeling around words like MUD and DIRT.
A feminist and intelligent fairy tale just right for modern children. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.
The Amelia Bloomer Project has recommended 58 titles this year with the following being their top 10. Books are selected by the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association. They must have significant feminist content, excellent writing, appealing format and be age appropriate for young readers. Here are the top 10 titles:
African American Women: Photographs from the National Museum of African American History and Culture
The Born Frees: Writing with the Girls of Gugulethu by Kimberly Burge
The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López
Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
Sally Ride: A Photobiography of America’s Pioneering Woman in Space by Tam O’Shaughnessy
Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm by Karen Deans, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie