This latest addition to the rapidly expanding genre of compilations of biographies of pioneering women focuses on extraordinary teens.
Beginning with Cleopatra in 69 B.C.E. and concluding with 21st-century heroes such as Emma González, readers learn about young women who accomplished extraordinary things as teenagers. Each brief biography is accompanied by appealing full-color illustrations, including a portrait of the subject and inspirational quotes. The book also includes ideas for becoming involved in community activism. While 12 profiles feature nonwhite women, only three are from the global south (Cleopatra, Frida Kahlo, and Malala Yousafzai), thus erasing important historical context for Western readers. The section on African-American poet Phillis Wheatley calls her emancipation a “pleasant surprise” handed to her by a benevolent slave owner. Sacagawea, the Shoshone girl who guided Lewis and Clark on their expedition, is called out for representing “the interests of the U.S. government,” but there is no mention that this same government decimated her people. Particularly unfortunate is the use of an insensitive quote from Lewis’ journal about this likely traumatized young woman—kidnapped at 12 and married to a white man who won her through gambling—to praise her resilience: “ ‘If she has enough to eat and a few trinkets to wear, we believe she would be contented anywhere.’ Which is to say, Sacagawea rolled with the punches.”
The book’s tonal missteps make it an unnecessary addition to an already crowded field. (Nonfiction. 12-16)