books, historical fantasy, historical fiction

Book Review: A Tyranny of Petticoats edited by Jessica Spotswood

A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers & Other Badass Girls edited by Jessica Spotswood

Candlewick Press, March 2016

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction (with some Fantasy)

9780763678487From an impressive sisterhood of YA writers comes an edge-of-your-seat anthology of historical fiction and fantasy featuring a diverse array of daring heroines.

Criss-cross America — on dogsleds and ships, stagecoaches and trains — from pirate ships off the coast of the Carolinas to the peace, love, and protests of 1960s Chicago. Join fifteen of today’s most talented writers of young adult literature on a thrill ride through history with American girls charting their own course. They are monsters and mediums, bodyguards and barkeeps, screenwriters and schoolteachers, heiresses and hobos. They’re making their own way in often-hostile lands, using every weapon in their arsenals, facing down murderers and marriage proposals. And they all have a story to tell.


Fifteen of today’s best YA writers tour some of the most exciting moments in American history through the eyes of strong teenage girls. Spanning hundreds of years, between the privateering ships of 18th-century colonial America and the violent outbursts of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, these stories follow girls finding their way in a world that too often tries to box them in. They fight prejudice, sexism, dangerous outlaws, spies, and their own fears as they define what feels right for them. Set against the backdrop of key turning points in American history, these stories are both thrilling and thought-provoking.

As soon as I heard that a historical short story collection by some of my favorite YA writers was a possibility, I was sold. J. Anderson Coats? Kekla Magoon? Robin Talley? Elizabeth Wein? Many of whom I’ve written about on this very blog? YES, PLEASE. I was lucky enough to win an advanced copy through a Goodreads giveaway, and I eagerly settled in with this treasure. And it really is a treasure. Before I’d read more than three stories I was already pressing into Josh’s hands, telling him that he’d better get the ELA team at his school to include them in their upcoming units.

It’s impossible to review all of the stories here, but I want to highlight some of my favorites. J. Anderson Coats starts the collection with the quietly heartbreaking “Mother Carey’s Table,” about a runaway slave disguised as a boy on a privateering ship off the coast of the Carolinas. Joe and her father have found relative safety crewing the Golden Vanity as it seizes prizes from unsuspecting ships. When the Vanity takes on more than it can handle, it’s up to Joe to save the day…until things take an unexpected turn. In just a few pages, Coats manages to paint a compelling picture of a character I dearly wanted to follow through an entire book. Just as her first novel, The Wicked and the Just, didn’t spare the grim details of life in 13th-century Wales, she pulls no punches in depicting the realities of 18th-century colonial America.

Similarly, Lindsay Smith’s “City of Angels,” set in WWII-era Los Angeles, reflects the challenges of not fitting into the heterosexual norm prior to LGBTQ movement. The story follows Evie, a factory riveter who longs to make a living as a screenwriter, and her growing realization that she’s more attracted to the annoying new riveter on the floor than she’d like to admit. The story turns the image of Rosie the Riveter on its head as Smith deftly considers how young women working for the war effort might have been fighting their own battles on the home front. I’d never read any of Smith’s work, but “City of Angels” convinced me to hunt down her Sekret series, set in Communist Russia.

Perhaps the most thought-provoking story, at least to my mind, is Leslye Walton’s “El Destinos,” a beautiful and puzzling tale in which the Three Fates are reborn as Mexican American sisters in post-annexation Texas. Told with a mythological flavor, “El Destinos” has the meandering feel of a story recounted by an elderly woman uncertain of her chronology – which makes sense, given that the Three Fates are reborn over and over again across time in Walton’s world. It took me a while to get into, but once the plot took off I was hooked, and I found myself thinking about it long after I’d moved on to other stories.

If you’re at all interested in YA historical fiction, especially with strong girls at the center, A Tyranny of Petticoats is a must-read. As I mentioned earlier, I’m already looking up all the authors I hadn’t heard of before this, so I’ll be set with historical fiction for quite a while (never a bad thing!). And I’m already eagerly awaiting Spotswood’s next anthology.

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