The Radical Element
edited by Jessica Spotswood
read in March 2018
release date: March 13th, 2018
This is a spoiler-free review!
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 an e-ARC from Candlewick Press through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review!
Though I haven’t read A Tyranny of Petticoats yet, I was interested in reading this “sequel” nonetheless. I’ve been meaning to read more anthologies and when I learned the feminism was intersectional, I had to request an ARC!
I won’t summarize each short story, but I will write a review for each work individually.
1. Daughter of the book – Dahlia Adler
★★★★ | This was a great short story to start off this anthology with. the main character is Jewish (#OwnVoices representation) and is torn between wanting to receive education and the expectations of becoming a “good” wife.
content/trigger warning for mentions of slavery
2. You’re a Stranger Here – Mackenzi Lee
★★ | This was my least favourite of the entire anthology. I didn’t like the writing: not only the dialogue, but the narration as well was written with an accent (from Liverpool). It was very confusing and inconsistently done.
That said, I appreciate the author’s note because I indeed wasn’t aware that Mormons were persecuted.
content/trigger warning for death/murder, the persecution of the Mormon church
3. The Magician – Erin Bowman
★★★ |The main character in The Magician is a girl of colour (probably Mexican) who cross-dresses as a boy in order to be able to work. She is cisgender and trans people aren’t mentioned.
I really wanted to know what happened next and hope her dreams will come true!
content/trigger warning for domestic violence, sexism, blackmailing
4. Lady Firebrand – Megan Shepherd
★★★★★ | When I started reading Lady Firebrand, I was hesitant. I was afraid the white protagonist was going to be a white saviour. Thankfully, that was not the case (in my opinion) and this ended up being my favourite short story of the entire anthology! The main character is disabled (in a wheelchair) and I was really invested in the story.
content/trigger warning for slavery
5. Step Right Up – Jessica Spotwood
★★★ |The protagonist in Step Right Up is queer and this is one of the stories I remember best. That said, I don’t understand why Spotwood decided to glorify the circus in her short story, even though she mentions how problematic it is in her author’s note. Why not challenge the animal abuse and treatment of disabled people in the text?
The “sideshow freaks” are considered positive representation in Step Right Up. It is said that it doesn’t matter who you are, but as long as you can make people stare and clap, you’re family. I personally disagree with that and think disabled people were being ridiculed and seen as something grotesque.
content/trigger warning for ableism, ableist language, circus animals (all unchallenged)
6. Glamour – Anna-Marie McLemore
★★½ | The writing style in Glamour by Anna-Marie McLemore didn’t work for me. The format if this e-ARC wasn’t perfect (there was no white space between the different paragraphs) but it only caused problems in this short story. I was confused and apparently missed a ton of information, since I only learned while reading the author’s note that the love interest is a transgender boy. Additionally, this was the first story in the anthology to include fantastical elements, which only added to the confusing.
That said, I appreciated what Glamour was about. The main character is Mexican but uses magic to appear white and thus increase her chances to be successful as an actress.
content/trigger warning for racism, alcohol, ableism (challenged), PTSD, kissing and mentions of sex
7. Better For All the World – Marieke Nijkamp
★★★★★| The main character in Better for All the World is autistic, which is #OwnVoices representation. This was a very powerful short story about mandatory sterilisation. It’s a topic that isn’t discussed often, but I think Nijkamp did an absolutely wonderful job! I’m definitely interested in reading more of her work in the future.
content/trigger warning for ableism (challenged)
8. When the Moonlight Isn’t Enough – Dhonielle Clayton
★★★½ | When the Moonlight Isn’t Enough is the second and final short story featuring magical elements. It’s set during World War II and deals with the question whether black people should risk their lives for a country that has treated them so badly.
content/trigger warning for racism, World War II
9. The Belle of the Ball – Sarvenaz Tash
★★★½ |I liked the main character in the Belle of the Ball and her love interest – who is a Latinx boy – was adorable as well.
content/trigger warning for sexism
10. Land of the Sweet, Home of the Brace – Stacey Lee
★★★★★|Lana was a wonderful main character; I was really rooting for her! Her mother is of Japanese-Portuguese decent and her father is Chinese. I own one of Stacey Lee’s books and I certainly want to pick it up soon!
content/trigger warning for racism
11. The Birth of Susi Go-Go – Meg Medina
★★★ | I liked the Cuban main character, but the story wasn’t as fleshed-out as it could’ve been.
content/trigger warning for sexism, slut-shaming
12. Take Me With U – Sara Farizan
★★★★ |The main character was a refugee from Iran. There were two sapphic side characters. I really liked this final short story and wouldn’t mind reading more books about Iran.
content/trigger warning for sexism, racism, ableist language (unchallenged)
I enjoyed the vast majority of these short stories, so I would definitely recommend this anthology! There is tons of diversity among the protagonists and authors, though it doesn’t cover every single marginalisation (e.g. no trans main character, no Native American representation, etc.). This was already obvious from the introduction, in which ‘cisgendered’ is said instead of ‘cisgender’.
That said, this feminist historical fictional anthology about girls who feel like outsiders or who are radical within their communities is definitely worth picking up!
Please buy me a coffee if you like my content. I am a Book Depository and Wordery affiliate. If you are interested in buying any books, please purchase from these links. you get free shipping and I get a small commission!