“History’s About Everyone” // Review: Things a Bright Girl Can Do

things a bright girl can do

‘When they writes up the history of this war,’ said Nell’s mother. ‘I hope they tells about the wives and children starving to death!’

‘They won’t,’ said Nell, gloomy socialist. ‘It’ll be all “Our Boys”, and everyone enlisting and people doing without chauffers to help the war effort.’

Things a Bright Girl Can Do is a brilliant and enjoyable book which gives 3 young people’s perspectives on the suffrage movement and World War 1. We follow Evelyn, an upper-middle-class girl who becomes torn between her desire for suffrage, education and sweetheart Teddy; middle-class pacifist Quaker May for whom there is no question of suffrage being the most important thing in the entire world; and working-class Nell, struggling to help keep her large family afloat as the war hits them the hardest and with men withholding jobs from women who “dress like boys”. Just to put it out there, I absolutely LOVE historical fiction books like this which present history in a dynamic, accessible and enjoyable format and which write stories about people that history often ignores. It felt so refreshing to read a fiction book which dealt with these issues, especially one that actually does things like clearly differentiates between the suffragists and the suffragettes, includes poor women, and has an LGBTQ romance! Sadly, as others have pointed out, TABGCD is completely missing any reference to women of colour, who have been entirely erased from the suffrage movement .

As a working-class person who identified so hard with Nell, it is perhaps unsurprising that I found her to be the best character of the book and there were times when I became frustrated with how often her story became sidetracked by a, frankly quite irritating, romance with May (my least favourite character by far). While I felt that May’s character offered some interesting perspectives on suffrage and war from a pacifist Quaker pov, her character was wholly unlikeable, grandiose, immature and sanctimonious to the point of distraction. And although I did enjoy Evelyn’s character a lot in the beginning, as her story moved away from suffrage, education and family towards an out and out romance with her best friend, Teddy, I became quite bored with Evelyn’s character development towards the end of the book. However, I did think it was valuable to have multiple perspectives on and approaches to the events of 1914-1918 across the different classes. Having said that though, I felt that particular characters and storylines could really have been deepened to give a better look at the socioeconomic and political lives of the time, and I wish that the end of the book did not feel so rushed.

On the topic of Nell and gender, I have a lot to say about this because I think that there has been a total misreading of Nell’s character (in my opinion). As a trans person, Nell’s experiences and feelings towards her gender identity absolutely scream of Nell being trans too, and I find it frustrating that this hasn’t been spoken about very much, instead, Nell and May’s romance is being portrayed as “gay suffragette’s”. Why do I think this? Well, I feel that there are some clear indications at points throughout the book from her attitude towards clothes, symptoms of gender dysphoria, and other people’s reactions towards her androgyny in a way that is different from other masculine fictional women, for example, Kay in Sarah Water’s The Night Watch.

Here are some of the most prominent examples, but there are many more littered through the entire book:

“‘I dunno, she said briefly. Cos I looks such a guy in petticoats.’
May sensed a lie, sensed the wall and retreated. Then, cautiously, she said ‘Mama has a friend who dresses like you. I mean, she wears her hair short, you know, and all her friends call her Cyril… What would you call yourself if you could?'”

The above quote occurs about a third of the way through the book. Already I had been getting trans vibes from Nell, and to see it laid out so plainly made me really excited about her character development, although sadly it never develops much beyond this point.

“If Nell had been the boy she sometimes thought she ought to have been, she would have treated May”.

The use of ought to have been here, I think, speaks strongly of Nell’s feelings of gender dysphoria which she continuously displays throughout the book.

“Other girls, mostly, didn’t much like Nell either; she wasn’t quite a girl and she wasn’t quite a boy, and that made them wary and a little contemptuous… Other girls felt like a different species to Nell. She’d decided as a child that she wasn’t one of them, and as an adult that feeling had only grown”.

“‘Look here, I ain’t being funny, but you know this is the girls’ dorm, right?… And then, ‘I ain’t trying to cause offence, right, but what are you? Peggy sez you’re a girl, but you ain’t, are you?'”

Like many other trans people, this is a conversation that I have had countless times throughout my life and is just one example of many of the way that other people interact with Nell on account of her gender presentation.

Whilst it could, of course, be that Nell is just a masculine woman, and that is absolutely fine, I just feel that these experiences so clearly mimic experiences of trans people that, in my mind, Nell is definitely a trans character. Naturally, everyone is entitled to their own opinions about this but I would urge other readers to at least consider this to be an option rather than a total erasure of these experiences in Nell’s story. It is also disappointing that the author did not take this part of Nell’s identity further, instead focusing on the romance between Nell and May.


This book was received through netgalley
Overall, I did really enjoy Things a Bright Girl Can Do, and felt that with some minor improvements this book could definitely have received 4 stars from me! It’s well-written, observant, critical, witty, and makes some excellent comments on suffrage and the war through the very enjoyable medium of YA fiction. It’s so important that more stories like this continue to be written, especially as historians are relentlessly slow in including these experiences in historical narratives.


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What’s To Come // October 2017

october

September turned out to be a fairly successful month for me. My blogging frequently is increasing, at a snail’s pace but it’s something, but the biggest thing to come out of September was finally getting my result’s for my dissertation and degree! After a long and very painful 28 days, I found out I got a 1st overall for my degree and over 75% for my dissertation. After all the shit that has happened throughout the 3.5 years of my degree, it honestly feels like the best trophy to get a 1st AND survive being at university. I still can’t quite believe it, and I definitely can’t believe that it’s already the 1st day of October! Time flies by too fast, but I like to at least begin the month with a vague outline of what I might be getting up to.

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“We’re All Care Givers”// Review: The Sum of Us

the sum of us

The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound edited by Lucas K. Law and Susan Forest starts with a fairly simple premise. We are all caregivers. Whether we’re parents, children, elderly or young, hospital staff, soldiers, siblings, personal assistants or even pets, we all care for someone in some capacity and are cared for by others.

Released on the 8th September 2017, The Sum of Us is a brilliant, dynamic and diverse speculative fiction anthology which brings caregivers to the front stage and allows us to not only experience the vast variety of voices, experiences and stories of carers but does so in such a way which encourages us to reimagine care work and caregivers. Who are caregivers? What does it mean to care? How gendered, age and species related is caregiving? How do we define quality of life? Who can care (robots, humans, animals, aliens)? Where does the caregiver end and the non-caregiver begin?

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Why It’s Okay to Not have a Great Time at University

University

As the start of the new academic term rapidly approaches, new and returning students alike may be feeling anxious about what’s to come over the next academic year. What will your classes be like? Will you get the lecturer who understands the difficulties of 21st-century studenthood or the lecturer who seems determined to make your life hell? Will you stand awkwardly outside of lecture halls, unable to talk to anyone or will you quickly find yourself immersed in a large group?

Image result for student lifeFrom the moment that acceptance letter lands in your lap, you may have found your mind drifting off to one or more of these scenarios.  Unsurprisingly, we hold a lot of expectations about what our uni experience is going to be. We are constantly assaulted with ideas and images of what “uni life” is going to be like from wild hall parties, cold showers in grubby student houses, never quite getting your seminar readings done, hanging around at multiple society events, and developing lifelong friends. But what happens if you get to university and find none of these things happening to you?

Well, I am here to tell you that it is 100% okay. And you are not alone.

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Diverse books to look forward to in Autumn 2017

Autumn (2)

Every year I look forward to Autumn, forever picturing the beautiful orange and yellow leaves falling on the increasingly frosty ground against an atmospheric backdrop of photogenic mist, much like the picture above. Yet every year, I am always disappointed by the pelting rain outside and bone-chilling cold that seeps into our little flat making Autumn a lot less romantic but also supplying me with an easy excuse to lock myself away under piles of blankets with a hot chocolate and one of the many diverse books that I’m looking forward to reading this Autumn. And this Autumn we are in for a treat with all of the diverse books which are about to drop which, needless to say, I am very excited for. As we are lucky that there are so many, I’m going to focus on the diverse books which I’m personally looking forward to reading but feel free to share others in the comments below or on twitter as usual ❤


they both die at the end
True to my usual style in being behind on the latest books, I am still yet to read an Adam Silvera book (I know!!) but am really excited for this. Set in a world where you’re notified the day before you’re going to die, They Both Die at the End follows Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emiterio who connect through an app called ‘the Last Friend’ so that they can spend their respective End Day with one another. A speculative YA novel with a gay Puerto-Rican character and a bisexual Cuban character, I’m very excited for this wonderful own voices book.

 

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Starborn Review

starborn review

Death and destruction will bar her way.

On the day Kyndra comes of age, she accidentally disrupts her village’s naming ceremony, ending centuries of tradition. So when an unnatural storm targets her superstitious community, Kyndra is blamed. She fears for her life until two strangers save her, wielding powers concealed for an age – powers fuelled by the sun and moon.

Together, they flee to the hidden citadel of Naris. And here, Kyndra has disturbing visions of the past, showing war and one man’s terrifying response. These draw her to the city’s fanatics and rebels. Kyndra will also be brutrally tested to unlock her own magic. If she survives, nothing will be the same again. But could the dark talent she discovers create as well as destory? And can she control it, to right an ancient wrong? (Starborn, 2016 edition blurb)

I got a free copy of Starborn by Lucy Hounsom in my goody bag from Nine Worlds 2017 and was pleasantly surprised by this book. Usually, I’m not a huge fan of fantasy novels as I tend to find them too Tolkienesque for my liking with writing that can be overly complicated, dry and long-winded. But Starborn is not like this at all. Lucy Hounsom manages to write in such a way which is wholly immersive without being alienating for the reader, and I found myself completely engaged from the very first chapter.

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Giving Yourself Permission

Giving yourself permission (1)

The descent of the bleak greyness, the creeping winter chill and the slowly diminishing light marks the rapid arrival of winter, and the final deathly blow to the summer we never really got. This can be a difficult time of year for many people whose mental and physical health takes a heavy blow from the withdrawal of summery goodness. In addition, many of my followers on twitter have likewise been finding the past few weeks a struggle in the aftermath of the post-con depression. Attending conventions can be a wonderful experience of acceptance, love and surprising motivation borne from such an electrifying atmosphere. The return home can be a very unpleasant jolt back to the mundaneness of our everyday lives which can lead to a worsening of mental and physical health.

In my case, the combination of these two events has resulted in a severe worsening of my depression and anxiety, low-self esteem and an almost total destruction of my motivation. There have been many days spent lying on the sofa trapped in a tempest of despair; unable to move or look after myself, a situation that may be familiar to many of you reading this. During these times, I often feel so encumbered by guilt – the guilt of not being productive enough – that I feel like I don’t *deserve* to do nice things, even if I know it technically counts as self care. And anyway, even if I did want to attempt to climb out of my deep, dark well of destruction, I often find myself unable to pick an activity. Read a book? Yes, but what book? What about playing a game? Well, what games am I can to play? Am I even allowed to waste time doing these things? Running into these obstacles can bring many well-meaning attempts to pick yourself up again to nothing. Instead, discouraged and feeling even more guilty because you can’t even pick an activity successfully, you return to your hole.

I am here to tell you: IT’S OKAY. It is okay to feel like this and you are definitely not alone in this battle. You are a wonderful, talented person who has much to offer the world. You may not see it yourself, but that’s the secret of the magic of you. You’re so awesome you’ve blinded yourself from seeing how truly magical you are in an attempt to live out a *normal* life. It seems maybe you have gone a bit overboard and now you can’t see that magic at all ever. But, everybody else can and we’re here to help you see your magic once again.

I am GIVING YOU PERMISSION to look after yourself until such a time when you can start giving yourself permission. Self-care is productive and this is something I think we could all benefit from learning. You have permission to look after yourself, to enjoy yourself, to view yourself and be viewed as something more than just a means of economic production.

And, I am giving you a cheat sheet of activities which you can turn to when your brain cannot come up with the ideas of things you can do to, hopefully, make yourself feel better. The surprise is that by doing such things and fashioning it into a part of your daily routine, you will likely find that you do feel more motivated because you’re looking after yourself and relieving that crushing boulder of pressure from your chest.
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