I received a copy of this book from the publisher on NetGalley.
Things A Bright Girl Can Do had a stand at YALC as well, and although I didn’t pick up a proof, I was approved for a NetGalley copy, so I was pretty chuffed. The story of three teenage suffragettes and suffragists was definitely something that piqued my interest, and I was on board from the first page.
Through rallies and marches, in polite drawing rooms and freezing prison cells and the poverty-stricken slums of the East End, three courageous young women join the fight for the vote.
Evelyn is seventeen, and though she is rich and clever, she may never be allowed to follow her older brother to university. Enraged that she is expected to marry her childhood sweetheart rather than be educated, she joins the Suffragettes, and vows to pay the ultimate price for women’s freedom.
May is fifteen, and already sworn to the cause, though she and her fellow Suffragists refuse violence. When she meets Nell, a girl who’s grown up in hardship, she sees a kindred spirit. Together and in love, the two girls start to dream of a world where all kinds of women have their place.
But the fight for freedom will challenge Evelyn, May and Nell more than they ever could believe. As war looms, just how much are they willing to sacrifice?
With three girls from very different backgrounds championing this story of the fight for women’s suffrage in immediately pre-WWI England, there was a diverse approach to how women saw themselves and sought the freedom to be themselves in stifling Edwardian (what a misnomer, the monarch at the time was George V) and WWI times.
All three main characters were interesting, especially Nell and May, and their relationship. The clash of cultures between them and their differing values on war, violence, money, class, and their difficulties navigating those made for some really interesting conflicts, especially because we were in the heads of both girls at times. Evelyn, the third character, was less compelling, probably because a lot of her rebellion seemed to be teenage chafing against the constraints of what was laid out for her in life, and she dropped it before too long.
I really thoroughly enjoyed the commentary on class, war, suffragism, suffragettes, women’s rights, poverty, and the impact of the outbreak of WWI on all aspects of life, including jobs for women and their position in society. All of these historical discussions were compelling, and all the more interesting as they were framed around the lives of individuals, which made them seem all the more real.
However, as I got further into the book, and it skipped more and more chunks of time, I really felt disconnected from the three main characters as people. The first 50% of the book was really excellent, and I felt connected to and empathised with all three girls (women?). However, as war broke out, and the chapters of the book became shorter and more disjointed, and there were larger and larger chunks of time between sections, I lost interest in all three girls and their struggles.
Disappointingly, I finished this book feeling a little apathetic about all three main characters. For historical commentary, it was spot on, but for characterisation and emotion, Things A Bright Girl Can Do struggled more the further in it got.