March 23, 2018 • Cee • Reviews

The Radical Element: 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes, & Other Dauntless Girls edited by Jessica Spotswood • March 13, 2018 • Candlewick Press
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In an anthology of revolution and resistance, a sisterhood of YA writers shines a light on a century and a half of heroines on the margins and in the intersections.

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 this book for free from Candlewick Press for review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

First sentence: “Rebekah threaded in.”

Twelve girls. Twelve stories about girls from all walks of life in different time periods in the United States who stand up for their beliefs and challenge what is expected of them because of their gender, race, culture, and religion. Twelve authors weaving these beautiful tales.

In The Radical Element, Jessica Spotswood has edited an excellent anthology about different girls during different times. You get:

  • 1838: Savannah, Georgia — “Daughter of the Book” by Dahlia Adler: Rebekah, a girl from an Orthodox Jewish family, wants to go to school and learn the Torah and Hebrew, but her faith forbids women from learning.
  • 1844: Nauvoo, Illinois — “You’re a Stranger Here” by Mackenzi Lee: Villatte becomes a Mormon with her mother, but she has a hard time figuring out where she belongs and whether she believes in her faith.
  • 1858: Colorado River, New Mexico Territory — “The Magician” by Erin Bowman: Ray, a Mexican girl, poses as a boy work as a stevedore to gather funds to go West to find the family she’s never met.
  • 1863: Charleston, South Carolina — “Lady Firebrand” by Megan Shepherd: Rose, a disabled girl, and Pauline, a free black girl, are spies for the North, and have been blowing up supplies for the South.
  • 1905: Tulsa, Indian Territory — “Step Right Up” by Jessica Spotwood: All Ruby wants to do is to escape her abusive uncle and join the circus.
  • 1923: Los Angeles and the Central Valley, California — “Glamour” by Anna-Marie McLemore: To try to fit in and make it in Hollywood, Graciela, also known as Grace, passes herself off as white, but lives in fear that she will be discovered.
  • 1927: Washington, D.C. — “Better for All the World” by Marieke Nijkamp: Carrie has been following the a law case of Eugenics, where lawyers argued about another girl named Carrie Buck who had been sterilized.
  • 1942: Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts – “When the Moonlight Isn’t Enough” by Dhonielle Clayton: Emma and her parents have been alive since the 1700s. With men dying in the War, Emma itches to help with the war effort, but her parents are against it all, preferring to run away than to help fight.
  • 1952: Brooklyn, New York – “The Belle of the Ball” by Sarvenaz Tash: Rosemary, a big fan of I Love Lucy, wants to do is make people laugh with her writing, but there are people like Mr. Powell who says “girls aren’t funny.” She wants to prove to him and the world that they are wrong.
  • 1955: Oakland, California – “Land of the Sweet, Home of the Brave” by Stacey LeeLanakila Lau, a Chinese-Japanese girl, decides to take part in the Sugar Maiden contest, and encounters a lot of prejudices because she isn’t white.
  • 1972: Queens, New York – “The Birth of Susi Go-Go” by Meg Medina: Susanna, a Cuban-American girl, struggles to live up to her Cuban family’s expectations and be an American with the arrival of her grandparents.
  • 1984: Boston, Massachusetts – “Take Me With U” by Sara Farizan

Of the twelve, my favorites were “The Magician” by Erin Bowman, “Glamour” by Anna-Marie McLemore, “Better for All the World” by Marieke Nijkamp,  “When the Moonlight Isn’t Enough” by Dhonielle Clayton, and “Land of the Sweet, Home of the Brave” by Stacey Lee.

I loved that these girls challenged what was expected of them. They are tired of the expectations; they wanted to do more. These are girls who wanted to learn; they wanted to understand the world. They want to escape and be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to find where they belong. They want to fight and to make a difference in a world that doesn’t allow for them to. These are girls who are breaking traditions and doing what makes them happy even if their friends and family do not agree.

Should you read The Radical Element? Yes. The Radical Element explores different girls from the United States who want more than what they were born into. They’re fighting for something and all looking for somewhere to belong. You want these girls to achieve all their dreams even if they have to defy expectations and family.


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