Things A Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls

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Things A Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls

Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Em Richardson
Reviewed by Em Richardson
Summary: Things A Bright Girl Can Do is the perfect introduction for teens looking to learn more about either the history of the feminist movement, or what it was like to live through World War One, with some heart warming romances included to help lighten the mood.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: September 2017
Publisher: Anderson Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1783445257

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Things a Bright Girl Can Do tells the story of three teenage girls, all of whom are fighting for women's suffrage, despite coming from very different backgrounds. There's Evelyn, an upper-class girl expected to marry at a young age, May, a middle-class girl with an opinionated Mother, and Nell, a working-class girl who does what she can to help her large family scrape by. The novel chronicles both their contributions to the fight for suffrage, and the way their lives change when World War One begins.

Part of the reason young girls will find this book so empowering definitely lies with the main characters, who are all intelligent and driven in their own way, be it May's desire to change the world for the better, or Nell's determination to feed her family. I particularly liked the fact the narrative spanned the duration of World War One, as it was great to see the characters develop over time. This was especially true of May, who went from someone who had little sympathy for anyone who opposed her views, to understanding that people often have very different views, for many different reasons.

My favourite character was probably Evelyn, as I admired her determination to defy her parents' wishes in order to both join the suffragette movement, and to win a place at Oxford University. I will say that she didn't quite turn into the feisty revolutionary I'd expected, but I still loved her determination to do things her own, modern way.

Of course, a key part of the novel was the historical context, which Nicholls has researched incredibly well. It's fascinating to hear about both key events in the journey to achieve women's suffrage, and the hardship many Brits faced during World War One. The varying degrees of hardship faced by the characters built on the theme of social divisions, with Nell and May's romance showcasing the different worlds they inhabit, whilst the privileged Evelyn struggles to adapt to hard work and a much less lavish lifestyle.

Another theme that can be felt throughout the novel is obviously feminism, as the various strong women it features show exactly why women are deserving of the vote, with their resilient campaigning and unapologetic determination to share their views. Nicholls can be applauded for writing a historical novel that still feels very relevant today, given the number of young women currently involved in the feminist movement.

However, it's important to remember that this isn't only a book with a political message - it also tells the tale of two romances, set against the backdrop of a country facing extreme hardships during World War One. Said romances are very different - one is between Nell and May, two people from incredibly different backgrounds, and the other is between Evelyn and Teddy, who are both from upper class backgrounds and have long been expected to end up married. The romances also explore some very different issues. On the one hand, Nell and May's secret relationship showcased the perils LGBT people would have faced in a society that staunchly refused to acknowledge that gay people exist. Even Nell herself is convinced she is somehow abnormal, until May tells her of other gay women she and her Mother have encountered while campaigning for suffrage. Evelyn's romance, on the other hand, is seen as socially acceptable, but explores history's stereotypical view of young women as housewives, as she is expected to marry at a very young age, despite her own reluctance to do so. Nicholls can also be praised for managing to create romances that are genuinely heart-warming, as well as showing distinct political undertones.

Overall, this is a novel teens will thoroughly enjoy. It teaches them about some very important issues, and is a great way to learn about the history of the ever present feminist movement, yet the romance element definitely stops it becoming overly hard-hitting or political.

For further reading, I'd suggest Can I Speak to Someone in Charge? by Emily Clarkson, a great read for any young women who'd like to see what the feminist movement that started with the suffragettes has developed into today.

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