Reviews /

When Women Were Dragons

Authored by Kelly Barnhill
Published by Hot Key Books

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Set against the backdrop of the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) investigations of the 1950s and 1960s in the US, this feminist YA explores a range of issues related to women and girls: misogyny, education, marriage and women’s rights to equal employment. It also highlights the politicisation of scientific research and has a number of allegorical connections to the position that marginalised people face in 2023.

Unlike many of the women in her life, Alex Green does not ‘dragon’ in one of the several ‘mass-dragon events’ that she witnesses. When Women Were Dragons follows Alex from early childhood to her retirement. We see her deal with loss, abandonment, love and acceptance in a hopeful conclusion about how the world might be if we could only pursue peace rather than conflict.

Although a little repetitive in places, the novel pursues the repeated infractions that women and girls face in a range of contexts, especially when they are considered outside of ‘normal’. Frightening, for men and patriarchal society, mass events are quashed and ignored and deliberately excluded from discussion in the hope that the status quo will remain.

While being polemical, it’s also a jolly good yarn. Alex has a wonderful set of relationships and her flaws enable tension to be developed and character growth to be seen.

A great novel for 14+ students – it will make you laugh, cry and rage – all at the same time.