ARC Review: The Radical Element, edited by Jessica Spotswood

Posted March 8, 2018 by Madalyn || 6 Comments

ARC Review: The Radical Element, edited by Jessica SpotswoodThe Radical Element (A Tyranny of Petticoats, #2) by Jessica Spotswood, Anna-Marie McLemore, Sarvenaz Tash, Sara Farizan, Marieke Nijkamp, Meg Medina, Erin Bowman, Stacey Lee, Mackenzi Lee, Dhonielle Clayton, Dahlia Adler
Published by Candlewick Press on March 13th 2018
Pages: 320
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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.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 What a delightful, intersectional anthology about kickass female protagonists in various historical settings! The Radical Element is a follow-up to A Tyranny of Petticoats, also edited by Jessica Spotswood and focusing on awesome women in history. This collection featured many authors I’ve read and loved, as well as three new-to-me authors (one of which I cannot wait to read more from now!!). Overall, I thought this book did an excellent job of providing perspectives that have historically been erased due to oppression. It was so intersectional– it featured lots of #ownvoices authors, and none of the diversity felt tokenistic at all. I can only personally speak to the queer rep, but it felt great to see myself in historical narratives from which people like me have traditionally been excluded. Also, many of the stories feature characters grappling with their identity as Americans in a country that is built on their cultures’ pain and suffering. I so appreciated this. Lots of them featured fabulist and magical elements, too, which I thought was very effective! Honestly, it’s such a cheesy word, but after finishing each story in this collection, I felt so empowered.

Now that I’ve stated my general thoughts on The Radical Element as a whole, let’s get into my thoughts on and ratings of the individual stories! I didn’t rate any story lower than three stars, which is SUPER rare for me with anthologies. This is a good one, y’all.

Daughter of the Book by Dahlia Adler: 4☆ // I enjoyed this opening story so much! It follows a practicing Jewish main character in Savannah, Georgia in the 1830’s. Even growing up in Georgia all my life, I had no idea that Savannah had such a vibrant Jewish community! I loved seeing a new side to this familiar city.

You’re a Stranger Here by Mackenzi Lee: 3☆ // Interesting story about the Mormon church during the time immediately following Prophet Joseph Smith’s death, while they were living in Nauvoo, Illinois. Our protagonist has to save the Book of Mormon from being destroyed by the people persecuting the church. I know a weird amount about the history of the Mormon church because my best friend growing up was Mormon, and she somehow always roped me into being in their church musicals (which were about this very topic) because I could sing. Still, it was cool to read about! I think lots of people will learn something new from this story.

The Magician by Erin Bowman: 3☆ // Solid Western story following a cross-dressing, Mexican protagonist. Ray, our main character, is a badass. Bowman was the first new-to-me author of this anthology, and though I liked this story fine, her writing didn’t intrigue me enough to pick up more of her work.

Lady Firebrand by Megan Sheppard: 4☆ // I love reading fiction set during the Civil War, and reading about female Union spies (one black, one disabled and a wheelchair user) was all the better. This story did a great job of reclaiming what has historically been a white, male-dominated historical narrative.

Step Right Up by Jessica Spotswood: 3☆ // I like Spotswood’s writing, but I’m just not usually one for circus stories. Therefore, this one didn’t wow me. I did like the queer rep, though!

Glamour by Anna-Marie McLemore: 5☆ // Beautiful, magical, intersectional perfection. OF COURSE I loved this one, because it’s Anna-Marie McLemore. I loved how this story challenged an often-glamourized-yet-super-exclusionary part of history (the Golden Age of Hollywood). I adored Graciela and Sawyer and would 100% read a full-length novel about them. I ship it. Plus, this story had touches of McLemore’s trademark magical realism, which made it all the more powerful, since magical realism has historically been a tool used by Latinx and African writers to process the trauma they as people have experienced.

Better for All the World by Marieke Nijkamp: 5☆ // WOW, I loved this. I appreciated that this story focused on forced sterilization and eugenics– it’s such a shameful part of America’s history that not enough people know about. We also get a glimpse into the US Supreme Court in the 1920’s. I adored our main character, who is neurodivergent, and as cheesy as it sounds, I found the ending of this story incredibly empowering.

When the Moonlight Isn’t Enough by Dhonielle Clayton: 4☆ // I really loved the magical elements of this story, and also the questions it grapples with: how can you be a patriot for a country built on your people’s disenfranchisement and pain? I do wish we had more resolution in the ending, though; I was left feeling a bit unsatisfied.

The Belle of the Ball by Sarvenaz Tash: 3☆ // Meh. Overdone and a little underwhelming, but with some good social commentary. Always yay for women in comedy.

Land of the Sweet, Home of the Brave by Stacey Lee: 5☆ // Another story I loved. This one also focused heavily on the protagonist’s identity as an American, but also as part of a culture America has deeply wronged. I loved Lana for her wittiness and resilience, and I enjoyed reading about her family’s history on the sugar plantations in Hawaii.

The Birth of Susi Go-Go by Meg Medina: 3.5☆ // An interesting look at the dichotomy of the immigrant experience in the 1960’s!

Take Me With U by Sara Farizan: 4☆ // A fun story about an Iranian refugee who joins a feminist girl band in Boston! I find the Iran-Iraq War a fascinating and overlooked part of modern history, and it was great to read a refugee’s experience.


Have you read The Radical Element? If so, which story was your favorite? If not, do you plan to read it?

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6 responses to “ARC Review: The Radical Element, edited by Jessica Spotswood

  1. I may have to check this one out. I am not usually into short stories. It’s hard for me to connect with them. I always want more. This one does sound good though.

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