Things A Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls | Book Review

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Through rallies and marches, in polite drawing rooms and freezing prison cells and the poverty-stricken slums of the East End, three courageous young women join the fight for the vote. |

Rating: 4/5

Review: My first thought after finishing this book was how I wish it had been around when I was studying History aged 15/16. My school barely touched on women’s suffrage and instead barrelled straight on in to WW1 and the experience of soldiers and the government. We didn’t learn about what happened to the wives and sisters and children left to fend for themselves, without a man’s wage to pay for food or coal or medicine.

But now at least we have this wonderful book to give us an insight into the lives of women during this time. The author, Sally Nicholls, says at the end of the book that most of the suffrage scenes are based on real events (she’s just changed the dates a little). So you can read knowing that these things did happen. Or like me, stop to google every few chapters because you need to know more!

Things A Bright Girl Can Do is divided in to seven parts. The first part is set in February 1914 and the last part is February 1918. And it is told from the perspectives of three teenage girls. There’s Evelyn, who is upper class and who wants to go to University like her brother. May, who’s a Quaker, and doesn’t believe in violence or killing even when Britain is at war. And finally Nell, who lives in just two rooms with her whole family

There’s a sweetly written romance between May and Nell which is particularly endearing because Nell always thought she was alone in the way she felt. Fortunately she meets May at a meeting and is introduced to a whole new world. May reveals that “heaps of the suffragist ladies are in love with each other” to a shocked Nell.

Of course the romance is really the only light in a book filled with injustices, violence, a hunger strike and illness. But all three characters grow and mature and learn from the hardships they experience. I especially liked seeing Evelyn go from being a girl uncertain about what it is she’s fighting for to being a young woman who stands up to her father and clearly explains why she wants the vote and the right to be educated.

One of the real highlights of this book though were the quick retorts the suffragettes had for the arrogant men and boys shouting things at them. One man had the nerve to tell Evelyn that “giving women the vote would be a disaster, because one week out of four, women were biologically incapable of rational thought”. Luckily Evelyn isn’t dim and retorts that “that meant three weeks out of every four they were capable, which was more than could be said for men”. Ha! I chuckled for a good long time at that I swear.

Another tells a group of suffragettes that men go to war and die for their country, women don’t, so why should they get a vote? A certain fantastic Miss Wilkinson knows exactly what to say back though and tells him that women risk their lives every time they bring a child into the world. Which is a damn good point! And trust me when I say many more damn good points are made throughout this book!

Overall Things A Bright Girl Can Do is an empowering  and thought provoking book that will introduce a whole new generation to the women’s suffrage movement. And hopefully it will spark an interest that will last a lifetime and will see us continuing to honour the women who sacrificed so much so that we, today, can choose to live our lives however we would like.

Have you picked up this book yet? Let me know your thoughts on it below!

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