Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Review: When Women Were Dragons

Alex Green is a girl who is growing up in the 1950s. She is navigating many familiar things--going to school, having a first crush, fending off an overly protective mother, and looking out for her younger sister. But in this version of America, things are a little different than you might expect. On a seemingly normal day, thousands of women suddenly turned into dragons and flew away, including Alex's Aunt Marla. Alex's "sister" Beatrice is actually her cousin, but no one is allowed to talk about the women who turned into dragons or the pain and confusion their leaving caused. Alex sets out to find the answers about just what happened that day, for herself, for her aunt, and for her beloved Beatrice who is showing signs of becoming a dragon like her mother.

For readers who like all of the answers, this might be a frustrating experience. Alex's own failed attempts as a child and young adult to get more information are interspersed with a scientist's reports as he tries to research the phenomenon of turning into a dragon and is thwarted at every turn by politicians and other scientists who want to keep everyone in the dark. But it rings very true to that experience of knowing that something bigger is going on and having your questions ignored because you're not old enough, or it doesn't concern you. 

Kelly Barnhill's writing is excellent. She clearly depicts the anger of a girl and then a woman who is kept from answers, left without support, and then belittled as she tries to use her intellect and skills. This is obviously a book about feminism and female anger. In America in May 2022, when women are dealing with parenting during a multi-year pandemic, a formula shortage, multiple mass shootings, and the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade, many of us are very angry. Reading When Women Were Dragons can give readers hope that they are not the only ones who are angry; in fact, women have been angry for a very long time. But it also reminds us that we aren't alone, and that we can make bold choices to protect and defend ourselves and the women we love. 

When Women Were Dragons
By Kelly Barnhill
Doubleday Books May 2022
352 pages
Read via Netgalley 

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