Review: Things A Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls

I was inspired to try out some YA Historical Fiction after the #ukyachat (run by @LucytheReader on Twitter) a few weeks ago focusing on this very topic. A period I’m particularly interested in reading more about is the fight for women’s suffrage – so when someone recommended Things A Bright Girl Can Do, I was keen to give it a read.

This is a multi-perspective feminist novel revolving around the lives of three young women in the UK, mainly covering the Suffragette movement and the impact of the First World War on women’s rights. Each of the three main characters come from a very different walk of life, which instantly makes the topic feel universal.

At various points throughout the novel, we are offered a detailed look into the life of a Suffragette – and the detail is sometimes very harrowing to read. The detailed description of a hunger strike, for example, really brought to life the hardships these women faced in their fight for the vote, as did the violence of some of the protests.

One of my favourite aspects of this novel was the f/f romance between two of the main characters. I think Sally Nicholls captured intensity of first love perfectly, with both the ups and downs feeling very realistic. It was so refreshing to read a book with teenagers who actually acted like teenagers – and though the setting is historical, I think teenagers today will find Evelyn, May and Nell’s drive and passion to fight for what they believe in relatable.

My main criticism of this novel is that it felt quite bitty. I kept waiting for Evelyn’s storyline to intersect with May and Nell’s – but I was disappointed to find this never happened. The story would have been more captivating, I think, if the author had decided to tell either Evelyn or May and Nell’s story, rather than bundling them together in a way that didn’t really add anything to the plot.

Another aspect of the book which let me down was the pacing. The beginning focused on the build-up to WWI, with lots of Suffragette protests and marches happening. When we reached the start of WWI, however, the story seemed to jump forwards through the War in a bit too much of a rush for me. It almost felt as if Sally Nicholls just wanted to get that part out of the way – and that’s unfortunately how felt when I was reading it.

Despite not loving the plot, I still think Sally Nicholls succeeded in making the Suffragette movement relatable for teenagers today, covering a number of important topics in a very accessible way. The story wasn’t for me, but the novel’s message is relevant for everyone.

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