I’m determined to up my reviewing game over the next few months, as there are so many books that deserve to be shouted about from the rooftops. First up, it is Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls.
Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls
Publication Date: 7th September 2017
Publisher: Andersen Press
Format: Hardback, 419 pages
Synopsis: 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?
As soon as I heard about Things A Bright Girl Can Do, I knew I needed to read it. A book about teenage suffragettes? YES PLEASE. I requested a copy on Netgalley, and was delighted to be approved. However, I was quickly distracted by other books and I am ashamed to say it has been languishing on my Kindle for quite some time… *guilty face* The recent celebrations of the centenary of some women achieving the right to vote made me determined to finally read this book, so I borrowed a copy from my local library. Supporting my local library AND improving my Netgalley feedback ratio? It’s a win-win!
In Things a Bright Girl Can Do, we follow the lives of three young women who each have their lives affected by the fight for women’s suffrage: Evelyn, May and Nell.
Evelyn has aspirations of going to university, just like her older brother. However, her parents feel that it would be a waste of time – Evelyn doesn’t need to go to university to become a wife and mother. Frustrated at this expectation of her, Evelyn finds herself drawn to the Suffragette movement. Nell, a working class girl, shuns dresses for her brothers’ cast offs of trousers and shirts. Being one of eight children, money is scarce, so the promise of equal pay for equal work from the Suffragettes appeals to Nell. May is a Quaker, and a believer in the Suffragist movement. May prefers peaceful protests rather than actions of violence, even if it means she finds herself friendless. When May and Nell meet at a protest, a romantic relationship develops between the two of them, despite their differences in social class. When the First World War breaks out, Evelyn, May and Nell have to decide what is worth fighting for… and what isn’t.
‘You tell me that women are weak-willed! You tell me that women are weak-spirited, and foolish, and ignorant, and only fit to stay at home and raise the children’. The woman on the orange crate paused, then added, ‘Hardly seems fair on the children, does it?’
I’ll be honest, I do not usually read historical fiction books. However, after I read Things a Bright Girl Can Do, I nearly kicked myself for not picking up this book sooner. It was a delight to read. With key events in history woven throughout each narrative, you can tell that Sally has thoroughly researched this novel inside and out. Even though this is a work of fiction, Things a Bright Can Do does an excellent job of portraying the Suffragette movement in action, and in particular how it was affected by the arrival of the First World War.
I had a slight fear that Things a Bright Girl Can Do would be difficult to get into, with it being set during Edwardian times, but I was wrong. From the first page, I was hooked. The quirky chapter titles were a favourite of mine, and the short chapters and alternating perspectives kept the story to a good pace. I was surprised at how quickly I managed to fly through 400+ pages!
It’s hard for me to pick a favourite character, as I genuinely loved each girl and their stories. I loved the LGBT+ representation in the form of the relationship between May and Nell, and I rooted for them all the way through. I also loved Evelyn’s story of joining the Suffragettes – her chapters in Holloway were particularly powerful.
On a slightly negative note, I will say that I did notice that there was a lack of WOC representation in this novel. All three of the girls are white, and it would have been amazing to have had a perspective from a WOC included. On the other hand, I can understand that Sally may not have felt comfortable including a WOC narrative. I would love a book about WOC suffragettes so if you have any recommendations, or are even writing one yourself, please let me know!
But it is true that I am a Suffragette not just because I believe – passionately – that modern society wastes and destroys the talents of half of its population. I am a Suffragette because for the first time in my life, I feel as though I have a purpose, a goal. I feel as though I am useful. I am powerful. I am doing the job I was put on this earth to do.
Even though Things A Bright Girl Can Do is primarily focused on the fight for women’s suffrage, there are so many other themes discussed as well, such as equality, privilege, sexuality, stereotypes, and social class. In my opinion, this book would be perfect for secondary schools as it brings a part of history to life in an accessible and empowering way. I did originally rate this book as 4*, but writing this review has reminded me just how much I loved this book, so I’ve changed my rating to 5*. Things a Bright Girl Can Do is a book I would enthusiastically recommend to anyone who is interested in the Suffragette movement and fancies reading a jolly good book at the same time.