Book Review // The Radical Element – There is Nothing More Radical Than Being Yourself

the radical elementDetails
Title: The Radical Element
Jessica Spotswood, Anna-Marie McLemore, Sarvenaz Tash, Sara Farizan, Marieke Nijkamp, Meg Medina, Erin Bowman, Stacey LeeMackenzi Lee, Dhonielle Clayton, Dahlia Adler
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Age: YA
Genre: Historical
Released: March 13th, 2018
Trigger Warnings: Physical and Domestic abuse
Representation: Person/s of colour, Feminist, LGBTQIAP+, Autism

Synopsis*: In an anthology of revolution and resistance, a sisterhood of YA writers shines a light on a century and a half of heroines on the margins and in the intersections.
To respect yourself, to love yourself—should not have to be a radical decision. And yet it remains as challenging for an American girl to make today as it was in 1927 on the steps of the Supreme Court. It’s a decision that must be faced whether you’re balancing on the tightrope of neurodivergence, finding your way as a second-generation immigrant, or facing down American racism even while loving America. And it’s the only decision when you’ve weighed society’s expectations and found them wanting. In The Radical Element, twelve of the most talented writers working in young adult literature today tell the stories of the girls of all colors and creeds standing up for themselves and their beliefs—whether that means secretly learning Hebrew in early Savannah, using the family magic to pass as white in 1920s Hollywood, or singing in a feminist punk band in 1980s Boston. And they’re asking you to join them.

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Being a woman who is living her truth has, and still is, a radical thing.

We need empathy now more than ever. We need to read stories about, and especially by, voices that have been traditionally silenced and erased from history. We need curious, open-minded, open-hearted teenagers (and adults!) like you.

The Radical Element is an anthology dedicated to the girls who refuse to play the roles life has assigned to them.

It follows American history with stories starting from 1838-1984, with main characters from different backgrounds and religions and some stories with a dash of magic mixed in. Many of the stories are #ownvoices which was amazing to see!

I loved every second of this anthology, and am once again reminded how much I love to read them. I’ll be racing to read the first anthology in this series!

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She was supposed to be demure, to know her place, but she’d had it with everyone deciding her place but her. 

│Daughter of the Book│Dahlia Adler│3.5★’s

Rebekkah is a girl who is desperate to learn in a conservative Jewish town in Savannah, Georgia during 1838.

She has been told her life that her job as a woman is to learn the ways of the household and how to run a family. She’s told she must put her interests to learn about her religion in order for the man of the house to do so.

Rebekkah is just so desperate for knowledge, I really saw myself in her because of that. It’s a common feeling for many women throughout history.

She will stop at nothing to ensure her own education and it mirrors many stories of women and girls doing the same.

If her biblical namesake had stuck to her place, the warlike Esau might be their forefather instead of the peaceful, learned Jacob. If Esther had stuck to her place, the Jewish people might not exist at all. Jewish history was not made of women who remained willfully ignorant in order to sew tablecloths.

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│You’re a Stranger Here│Mackenzi Lee│★★★★★│

Because if it were true — all of it — why would there be fighting about who would step up now with Joseph dead? Pieces were starting to fall out of alignment, like Joseph had been a finger in a dike and not the water was starting to pill over and flood us. Perhaps the cracks had been there before he died. Maybe now they’re just splintering aloud.

I have a love for Mackenzi Lee which may be odd considering other than this short story, I am yet to read one of her books in their entirety.

I started her historical YA novel the Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue last year by way of an ebook on Overdrive and then my mum asked me what books I wanted for Christmas and though I had only read a few chapters so far, I was beyond captivated and knew I had to own the book so I decided to wait until I had a physical copy in my hands.

But before all that I had stumbled onto Lee’s #bygonebadassbroads on twitter where she shares a badass woman lost in history. I loved her way of making history fascinating and knew I needed to give her books a try.

Lee’s story of Vilatte in You’re a Stranger Here follows a young Mormon girl who joined her mother on a trip from her home in England to America to follow the preaching of the prophet Joseph. Set in 1844, the congregation have set up their own town in Nauveoo, Illinois where they are now being terrorized in by the locals around them.

This is a story of grief and finding your way in religion, and learning how to still hold onto your faith and beliefs in the face of adversity.

It was beautifully written and raised great questions about religion, while still being filled with hope.

The men of Illinois are hunting us from the outside.
But we are wolves, too. We are tearing up our own pack.

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│The Magician│Erin Bowman│★★★★

Magic was real, Ray had learned. It could inspire. It could trick. It could save. It provided an escape from the dark, grueling, unfair nature of the world.

The Magician is set in 1858 on the Colorado River on the General Jesup travelling from Fort Yuma to Utah.

Our main character is an orphan Rat who is nicknamed Rat by her co-workers who are unaware that she is a teenage girl and not a teenage boy.

The only person who knows her secret is Mr Lowry who has taken Ray under her wing, even estranging herself from her husband to care for her.

Ray is offered the opportunity to work on the General Jesup on it’s expedition with the promise of $50 at the end of it which she jumps at in order to help fund her journey to San Fransico where she believes her parents are waiting for her, in addition to the funds she has made working at Fort Yuma and cheating her through games of cards with her co-workers.

Ray work hard to keep her both her secrets but it’s a tall order while aboard a boat filled with workers, soldiers, and citizens.

Bowman shares the story of a woman cross-dressing in order to support herself in a time where women were not afforded the same opportunities as men. Ray is a hard worker and determined to find her family and choose her life for herself.

Ray’s story is bitter-sweet but like all the stories in this anthology, it is oozing with hope.

Men could be dangerous when they’d been beaten.

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Lady Firebrand│Megan Shepherd│★★★★│

Rose Blake, exiled to the farthest end of the table — suitable only for visiting relatives — eyed the chandelier, secretly willing it to fall. Anything to end Aunt Edith’s latest tirade.

Rose Blake is a disabled woman living with her aunt Edith and uncle Cornelius and live-in ‘maid’ and friend Pauline at Drexel Hall in Charleston, South Carolina, 1863 heightening conflicts of the Civil War.

Rose and Pauline, who is a Black woman, are the brains and brawn behind Lord Firebrand, a rogue the girls created in order to help fight the cause of people of colour. It’s a high-risk job, but Rose and Pauline do not shy away from danger even though Pauline has much to lose if caught, and Rose is bound to her wheelchair.

Lady Firebrand takes us on Roses journey of learning that her disability can only stand in her way if she allows it. There are high stakes but high reward if they succeed in their mission to injure the Confederate army.

Shepherd did an amazing job of representing wheelchair users without pulling the much dreaded ‘cure’ card. Rose will always need a wheelchair to move around on her own but it is clear by the end of the story that it will not stand in her way.

Shepherd also steers very clear of the ‘white saviour’ narrative as well. Pauline is her own person, and Rose never takes away any of her friend’s agency.

“I have a feeling that the true thanks might be due elsewhere. After all, it isn’t an English lord I see before me now, nor a Union spy. It’s two girls.” She smiled kindly. “Whoever Lord Firebrand is, he’s fortunate to have you on his team. I daresay if I was in trouble, I’d turn to the two of you before an English rogues.”

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│Step Right UpJessica Spotswood│★★★★☆│

Mamma jumps between us, patting my arms, her brown eyes full of worry. Like she hasn’t seen me broken before. Like most of my bruises haven’t come from the man at her side. Like all her tears and sorrys are worth a damn.

Step Right Up is the story of a head-strong daredevil Ruby who wants nothing more than to walk the tightrope like her idol Miss Etta in the Archer Brothers circus that visits her town of Tulsa. The story is told in the year of 1905 where Ruby is yet again risking life and limb to walk along the roof of the church when her mother and uncle Jack interrupt leading to a beating for poor Ruby and being locked away in her room the day the circus comes through.
I really loved the relationship between Ruby and her sister. Although they are stark opposites, the love they have for each other is crystal clear.
I thought Spotswood gave us great rep of domestic violence and child abuse.
I also adored that we got a canonically gay main character but the story was never about Ruby being gay, the focus was always on her dreams to be a part of the circus. As important as it is to have books about being gay, coming to terms with your sexuality and coming out, it’s just as important for characters to have their sexuality treated the same way straight characters’ sexualities are treated.

“I just feel like — like my whole life here would be wasted. If I got married and had babies and never walked the church roof again, maybe I could go on living, but it’d be some pale ghost version of me.”

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│Glamour│Anna-Marie McLemore│★★★★★│

What Grace wanted was to be one of those girls, pin-curled and dripping with ribbons. What she wanted was to be a star.
That was before she’d gotten cast as one.

Grace is a Mexican girl masquerading as a white girl in Hollywood in order to help support her family. Set in 1923, Glamour is a magical realism story of accepting yourself, not despite the things that make you Other, but because of them.

We get to see what it is like to have to change so much of yourself in attempts to fit into a world that does not accept you, and how draining that can be on a person.

In addition to a Latinx main character, Grace is also queer, has a trans love interest and there is disability rep throughout as well.

It’s an #ownvoices story which right now are some of the most important stories being told in YA today, and we need more of them.

“Maybe it could be fixed.”
Sawyer shook his head. “I’m not broken. This is who I am. Everything that’s happened to me, it’s who I am.”

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│Better For All the World│Marieke Nijkmap│★★★★★

The world’s expectations were not made to fit me.

I am so happy to have finally been able to read an #ownvoices story of an autistic main character!

Carrie Allen has made her way to Washington, D.C. in 1927 to live with her Aunt Elizabeth to get away from the discrimination she received n her hometown for being different and to hopefully make it in the male-dominated career of law.

We first meet her during a hearing Carrie Buck, a real woman in history who had her rights and bodily autonomy taken away by the law, in the name of protecting the population from her ‘undesirable’ traits. She is lawfully sterilized in order to keep her from bearing any more children as she is seen as ‘feeble-minded’.

Carrie Allen sees herself in Carrie Buck and follows Buck’s case, hoping against the odds that Buck’s rights will not be taken from her.

Carrie is a force to be reckoned with and I pity the person who tires to stand in her way.
I loved reading Carrie’s story and all though Buck’s story was bleak, Carrie Allen’s is optimistic and filled with potential.

Given time, I could grow to love myself. And in a world where we are considered undesirable elements, Carrie and I, perhaps that is the most radical act of all.

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│When the Moonlight Isn’t Enough│Dhonielle Clayton│3.5★’s

When I was little, Mama would only stockpile a month at a time to keep it fresh. There’d always be one or two jars in the pantry or the icebox if she wanted it cool. The moon would provide forever. Now she doesn’t seem so sure.

When the Moonlight isn’t Enough follows Emma who is nearly 200 years old thanks to drinking moonlight like her parents, though she appears to be only 16.

Set in 1943 Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, during World War II, all Emma wants to do is something. Instead, she follows her parent’s rules of staying out of everything and blending in as if they were a ‘normal’ family.

Emma secretly starts volunteering for the Army Nurse Corps at a Red Cross Recruiting Center to help soothe her desperate yearning to help, only for it to do nothing but intensify her feeling to do something even more.

I was a little confused but the magical aspect of this story as it wasn’t explained in too much detail until right towards the end but I still enjoyed the journey nonetheless.

“You know that’s at stake f anyone figured out what we can do.” He takes a deep breath. “They’d lock us up in their hospitals. They’d poke us with their needles and measure our skulls and take our blood. They’d tudy us like the animals they already think we are.”

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│The Belle of the Ball│Sarvenaz Tash│★★★★★

He was doing the roll call now, looking stern any time he said one of the boys’ names, like he maybe expected them to try something. He seemed to have no such expectation for any of the girls. All we got was a smile dripping with condescension and, occasionally, a nice “Nice to see you again, dear.”
That sealed the deal for me.
What could I say? I got an inexplicable thrill from defying expectations.

Rosemary is funny.

She writes small bits for her friend Sandra to perform as distractions of the mundane life they live in Brooklyn, New York in the year 1952.

ut when Rosemary overhears a neighbor say that women can’t be funny, however, he is also accepting scripts from women for writers of a television program she takes it upon herself to prove that women can be funny.

Rosemary writes an example episode of her favourite show I Love Lucy.

I love Rosemary, she was so fun and determined and I loved that the love interest was never an obstacle in the way of Rosemary’s dreams.

“I may be a daydreamer. But if I am, it’s in the best way. It’s in the way that lets me imagine better thing that what’s placed in front of me. It’s in the way that makes me go after those things, no matter what or who stands in my way.”

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│Land of the Sweet, Home of the Brave│Stacey Lee│★★★★

I should be Miss Sugar Maiden because sugar is in my blood.

Land of the Sweet, Home of the Brave shares the story of Lana in 1955 as she participates in a competition to be crowned Miss Sugar Maiden, the face for a sugar company in Oakland California, and win $500 in cash as well as a trip to NYC.

The competition sheds light on the discrimination and racism Lana faces as an Asain American of both Chinese and Japanese descent in the wake of World War II.
It was a brilliant story of hope and determination.

I loved that Lana didn’t take the polite route in the face of racism and bitchy behaviour as I am a true believer that sometimes you gotta get down in the mud with the pigs and fling some shit back.

I bask in the audience’s approval, approval lit by a father’s love. Fifty miles away, Mother is wolf whistling. On a cloud even farther, Oba blows me a kiss. Suddenly I don’t care so much about winning this particular contest. Battle has been waged in this theater, and Lana Lau is still standing tall.

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│Stacey Lee│Meg Medina│3.5★’s

A book can bring bad dreams, but memories are more efficient enemies. Soldiers know this. Children of war. And Susana.

The Birth of Susi Go-Go takes as back to New York, only this time in Queens in 1972. Susana is from Cuba, a home she left behind as a little girl and is now faced with her home being filled with the family members she left behind all those years ago.

Linda Turner moves into the apartment next door and as a woman who owns her sexuality, Susana’s mother warns her to steer clear. But Susana is fascinated by Linda’s tall, white Go-Go boots, and in turn, fascinated with the life that Linda leads.

It has Susana wondering what it would be like to break out from under her mother’s thumb and to embrace the American life where anything is possible.

I’m a huge fan of One Day at a Time which is a T.V. Show centered around a Cuban American family so I enjoyed seeing another story of a Cuban American family.

One thing was clear: These boots were fashion to Linda, nothing more. A girl like Linda could give them away without a look back. Nothing would for her if she discarded them.
But what is you were a different sort of girl. Susana Wondered. What if you wanted all that breezy happiness but already knew the sting of having the most important things taken?

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│Take Me With U│Sara Farizan│3.5★’s

“She’s here because of the war,” Amir interjected. That I understood well enough. “War’s bad. Except in the movies. Then it’s fun.”

Our last stop on the Radical Elements journey is in 1984 Boston, Massachusetts where we meet Soheila, a teenage girl from Tehran, Iran who has moved to America to escape the Iraq-Iran war that occurred throughout most of the 80’s.

While living with her Uncle Khosro and Aunt Fariba, Soheila is trying to navigate her way around a new country while knowing her friends and family are back in Iran, where they may not be safe.

Sohelia must deal with her judgemental Fariba who sees Soheila as a leech while babysitting her cousin Amir. Against Fariba’s wishes, Sohelia makes friends with a feminist punk band and discovers music which quickly becomes her escape.

This story was so touching and heartbreaking, I just want the best for Soheila, wherever that leads her.

“American girls are trouble,” Aunt Fariba said. “They’re into sex and drugs. We want you to be careful.” I wondered how she knew, since I didn’t see her with any Americans.

I really loved this anthology! I enjoyed reading the authors note after each story, which gave us a glimpse into the authors themselves and the history that their stories are based on.

The Radical Element is an incredibly diverse collection of determined young women in historical settings and I loved every minute of it!

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Where to buy
Goodreads│💲Book DepositoryKindle│**

*Taken from Goodreads.
**If you would like me to include links to purchase books from a specific store in my reviews please let me know!
💲I receive a small commission off the following link

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest review.

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Have you read The Radical Element or its predecessor A Tyranny of Petticoats? What did you think?


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