The Premise: Teenage Suffragettes! What more could you possibly need to know?
Thoughts: I am so happy that this book has been written; I’ma big fan of YA novels that consider the experiences of teenagers in important historical periods, and Sally Nicholls’ choice of early 20th century London and the Suffragette movement is enthralling.
I found the depiction of the 3 central heroines both educational and entertaining. My favourite was privileged Evelyn, who joins the Suffragettes primarily as an act of petulance, rebelling against the parents who won’t let her go to Oxford and would prefer her to practise being an obedient wife. Working class Nell represents the opposite end of society, sharing a 2 room home with 5 siblings and her parents, as well as questioning her sexuality. The third protagonist is May, following her mother on Suffragette marches and peace initiatives from a life of relative comfort.
The level of historical detail here is excellent, with relevant references to real-life figures like Sylvia Pankhurst and Emily Wilding Davison neatly woven into the narrative. Aspects of the Suffragettes’ struggle, particularly hunger strikes and their effects on the body, are well-used, adding both depth and horror to the description of how the vote was finally gained. I found the representation of the fight for Votes for Women really compelling.
Inevitably, as it’s a historical novel set in that period, World War I comes along and ruins everything; aside from the terrible impact on each of the main characters, this has an effect on the story too, as the fight for women’s rights falls to the wayside. Obviously this is historically accurate (and I also learned new things about how the Suffragettes contributed to supporting families left behind as husbands and fathers went off to fight) but I missed the strong feminist outlook of the book’s first half.
In Conclusion: Overall, I strongly recommend this book, both to teen and adult readers. It offers a fascinating perspective on a turbulent and crucial period of history, as well as being extremely well-written and, when appropriate, highly entertaining.