BOOK REPORT for The Radical Element: 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes & Other Dauntless Girls (A Tyranny of Petticoats #2) edited by Jessica Spotswood

Cover Story: Characters Wanted

The Best: “Land of the Sweet, Home of the Brave” by Stacey Lee, “Glamour” by Anne-Marie McLemore

The Worst Not My Favorites: “The Birth of Susi Go-Go” by Meg Medina, “Take Me With U” by Sara Farizan

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Bonus Factors: Diversity, Authors’ Notes

Break Glass In Case Of: Inspiration Is Needed

 

Cover Story: Characters Wanted

I love this cover—from the cameo to the bold title to the vignettes from the stories, this is eye-catching and stylish. (Plus: magenta!)

The Deal:

This is the follow-up to 2016’s A Tyranny of Petticoats, and I find it to be an equally worthy successor—overall, it’s a charming anthology that highlights experiences from women who would have been relegated to the sidelines (doubly so for the characters of color, disability, neurodiversity, and/or those who are non-cishet and socioeconomically disadvantaged). Twelve YA authors have written stories about young American women at pivotal points in their lives, ranging from 1838 to 1984.

Whether the girls are seeking education, justice, fame, fortune, love, faith, freedom, or a better sense of their identities, readers will find themselves.

The Best: “Land of the Sweet, Home of the Brave” by Stacey Lee

It’s no secret that I love everything Stacey Lee writes—somehow, whether she’s dealing with magical love potions, devastating natural disasters, friendship in dire circumstances, or racism, as she does in this story, it’s like getting the book equivalent of a warm hug from your very wise bestie. In this story, Lana Lau, a girl descended from women who work in sugar fields and factories, competes to be Miss Sugar Maiden 1955—the girl whose face will be on the Sugar Maiden brand boxes. As you can imagine, a girl of Chinese/Japanese ancestry in that time is going to fight an uphill battle to be the face of any “traditionally” white brand.

The Best: “Glamour” by Anne-Marie McLemore

The golden age of Hollywood was not kind to non-cishet, non-white people, whether they were actors or worked behind the scenes. In this story, Graciela Morena uses a glamour to become Grace Moran—fair-haired, fair-skinned, and blue-eyed—a girl whom Hollywood will accept. When she meets Sawyer, however, her glamour falls, and she faces the scariest thing of all—someone who sees her for who she really is.

The Worst Not My Favorite: “The Birth of Susi Go-Go” by Meg Medina

Susana, a recent immigrant from Cuba in the 1970s, grapples with her identity as Cuban versus who she wants to be as a modern American girl. It’s a great premise and Medina is excellent at setting a scene, but I thought the story itself meandered. (I felt the same way about Medina’s novel from a similar time period, Burn Baby Burn.)

The Worst Not My Favorite: “Take Me With U” by Sara Farizan

Iranian immigrant Soheila and her brother Amir have fled the war in Iran to live in Boston with her aunt and uncle. Adjusting to life in America is difficult, but when she meets Mai, a punk musician with purple hair and a love of Prince, Soheila starts believing she can fit in. For me, this one didn’t pack the emotional punch that some of the others did, and it may have had something to do with the ultra-fast pacing.

Bonus Factor: Diversity

As with its predecessor, diversity of every kind is present here, including neurological, socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, and more. It’s such a lovely tribute to the “melting pot” that America is supposed to be, but rarely represents in media.

Bonus Factor: Authors’ Notes

I’m a nerd who reads authors’ notes and acknowledgments, and these do not disappoint. Just like Tyranny, each author briefly describes the inspiration for the story, the real-life history behind their settings, and sometimes offers further reading suggestions. Whereas some of the stories didn’t resonate with me as much as others, all of the authors’ notes were fascinating (often heartbreaking, too).

Break Glass In Case Of: Inspiration Is Needed

The world is an exhausting place, particularly if you’re a woman who presents as anything other than the perceived “norm.” When life gets rough, sometimes the cure can be reading tales of girls who, nevertheless, persisted.

The Radical Element will be available March 13th, 2018.

Jennie Kendrick lives in San Francisco and has an excessive fondness of historical fiction, spreadsheets, turquoise sparkly things, and bourbon. She is also a literary agent with Lupine Grove Creative. When she’s not reading, writing, or writing about reading, she cooks obsessively, goes to loud rock concerts, and thrifts for vintage everything.