Snapshots: A Tyranny of Petticoats, edited by Jessica Spotswood

A Tyranny of Petticoats Jessica Spotswood

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. — [X]

A Tyranny of Petticoats, edited by Jessica Spotswood, is a collection of 15 stories from fifteen amazing YA authors about American girls through the ages–“belles, bank robbers & other badass girls”, as the cover says. The book has a lot of characters of colour, a couple of queer characters, and some great stories about family, race, social standing, and love.

– I do feel the book could have done with more representation in terms of sexual orientation and disability though. I think that would be the one negative of this book.

– All of these stories are classified as “historical fiction”, but some of them definitely dip into fantasy. Strangely, it’s the ones that didn’t have any fantasy leanings that captivated me because, well, I’d forgotten that girls like this existed too. We share an actual history with them. We may have even walked the same paths as them. How strange, how thrilling, and how bracing!

– I also really appreciated that every story came with a note from the author, talking about the time period, their inspirations, and sometimes even providing resources for further reading.

– Of these 15 stories, I enjoyed a good 12 of them, so all in all this anthology was a huge success with me. Honestly, I did not expect it to be. I mean, I did expect to love this book. I went out and bought it, after all. It’s just that one of the stories in the beginning annoyed me (still annoys me, present tense) and I began to lose hope in the stories, but almost every story after that one was a win. (As for the one I didn’t enjoy, remind me to round up my thoughts on the role of slavery in fantasy sometime.)

– 12 out of 15, though! Do you understand how rare it is that an anthology has me liking over 60% of its stories. It’s highly unusual and I love it even more for that. I think Jessica Spotswood ought to edit more YA feminist anthologies. I strongly believe that her anthologies would only get better.

– If you choose to pick this anthology up–and I strongly recommend that you do–here are some of the things you can look forward to:

  1. Pirates! Oh, where was J. Anderson Coates’ “Mother Carrey’s Table” when I was looking for stories about POC!pirates?!! This one follows a girl and her father who managed to flee their slaver and find freedom on the sea, treacherous though it may be.
  2. “Madeline’s Choice”, Jessica Spotswood’s own contribution, was one of my favourites. On the surface, a simple story of picking between the suitable boy and the boy that makes your blood pound, but so intelligently told through the complications of race, social norms, and racist laws. I would have read this in novel length.
  3. Oh, did I hear something about this month’s theme? Well, yes, quite a few of these stories suit the “monster girl” theme, not because they are inhuman in some way (though a couple are) but because they stand outside what society defines as “human” (i.e. “civilized”) and “girl” (i.e. “poor helpless darling in a hoop skirt”). If you are interested in reading how girls navigate the narrow confines of such definitions, stories like “The Red Raven Ball” by Caroline Tung Richmond and Saundra Mitchell’s “Bonnie and Clyde” are sure to delight you. If you’re in to fantasy, definitely look into Leslye Walton’s “El Destinos”.
  4. “Pearls” by Beth Revis is another favourite. It follows a girl who was raped by a “gentleman” and no one seems to believe her to be the victim, not even her father. So she calmly skips town, becomes a teacher, and meets a peculiar, rifle-carrying student named Annie …
  5. Speaking of gun slinging girls, Y. S. Lee’s “The Legendary Garrett Girls” is another incredible contribution. If Westerns were all written by Y. S. Lee I may have more of an interest in them. This one follows two sisters who inherit a bar from their mother and make it the most successful one in town. That in itself is a story I could read for 400 pages, but things only get more interesting when they are blackmailed out of their business. Obviously, the Garrett sisters do not go down without a fight.
  6. Elizabeth Wein’s “The Color of the Sky” and Kekla Magoon’s “Pulse of the Panthers” were both incredible in the way they brought African American heroes and history to life. One speaks of the effect that a single woman had on generations of young, black girls, and the other speaks of the important role the Black Panthers played in the safety and empowerment of a whole community of people. Both are amongst the best stories in the collection and provide excellent resources for further reading.
  7. “City of Angels” by Lindsey Smith is another one I enjoyed. (Honestly, I think the writers of Agent Carter could stand to get a few tips from this one.) A riveter and a screenwriter, Evie is sure of herself and her life–until Frankie, a new recruit and someday actress, shakes up her world. I loved watching Evie’s journey of self-discovery. I think the story ended just right. It’s just that I wish it didn’t have to end at all. A recurring theme I think, me reading short stories and wishing they were all novels.
  8. There were a couple more stories I really enjoyed, but at this point I have already demonstrated that I don’t understand what a “snapshot” review means, so let me just conclude with: definitely recommended!

6 responses to “Snapshots: A Tyranny of Petticoats, edited by Jessica Spotswood

      Anyway, yes, Wein’s story was good! Heartbreaking, but good! Since we spoke, the stories have mostly been awesome. :)

  1. Kekla Magooooon! I’m really excited about this collection, and even more so now that you’ve talked about it a bit. Twelve out of fifteen hits in a short story collection is amAZing — that almost never happens to me (though I admit I am a bit of a short story curmudgeon).

    • Have you read a lot of Kekla Magoon? This is only the third thing I’ve read by her and I love her stories so much! (I can’t wait to read her take on Robin Hood.) And yeah, I was feeling curmudgeon-y when I started, but despite myself the stories began to dazzle and impress. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the anthology too! :)

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