Book Review: A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller
Yesterday, as part of the #SVYALit Project, we talked with Sharon Biggs Waller about A Mad, Wicked Folly. Yesterday’s chat was one of the few #SVYALit Project chats where I hadn’t already read the books before putting the project outline together. So I read AMWF this week. Here are my thoughts.
Victoria Darling wants nothing more than to be an artist. The problem is, she lives in London in the early 1900s and the only role that society has planned for her is wife and mother. And she doesn’t even get to choose who she will marry, that is dictated by things like station, class, and her parents.
When we first meet Vicky, she is sneaking away to take art classes. One fateful day, she agrees to pose nude for her class. When news gets back to her family, she is sent home in disgrace. Back at home, her family is trying to redeem their name and arrange for Vicky to marry a man, claiming she is lucky anyone will have her now. If Vicky doesn’t want to see her family fall from grace, she must play the role of dutiful daughter and wife successfully, but that also means that she must deny who she truly is and what she wants for herself.
At the same time, the Suffragette movement is starting to build and Vicky finds herself drawn to their cause. Why shouldn’t women get to vote, to go to college, to choose who they want to marry for themselves? She is also drawn to a man, a man who is not her fiancee’, but does turn out to be her artistic muse.
What we see in A Mad Wicked Folly is just what was at stake when women fought for their rights. For it’s not just Vicky who may lose, but she could cost her family everything: status, business contracts that allow them to support themselves. For Vicky, it means trying not only to get into an art school that will only let in a very small number of women, but trying to find a way to pay for it since she knows that her father who doesn’t believe in women’s education would never support it. In a way, some of the issues of this day very much mirror our current day: he who holds the purse strings has the greatest amount of power and influence.
As Waller mentioned in yesterday’s discussion, although Folly is specifically about the Suffragette movement, it is also a story about anyone who has ever come of age and had to make brave choices to sacrifice security and comfort to be faithful to their passion, to who they truly are inside. Throughout the story we see Vicky’s passion to art, he burning desire to study and grow and be considered among the great of her time, and you want for her to succeed. Anyone who has ever wrestled with acceptance can relate to Vicky’s struggle.
It was fascinating for me to be reading this right as the Women Against Feminism memes broke out on the Internet. Folly is a reminder of where Feminism came from, what it is, and why it mattered. And why it matters still today because although women have made tremendous strides, we know from stats like the percentage of women in Congress (around 20%) and from looking at women in the workforce (where they still make less on average then men doing the same job, where few boards have even a single female on them, and where women in the boardroom are still often assumed to be secretaries) that we still have a long ways to go in discussing equality. For a great take on Women Against Feminism, do be sure and check out what The Bloggess has to say. Sharks are mentioned. It is brilliant.
As a mother, I realized the importance of discussing these issues with my daughters when The Tween brought home a school assignment on pink paper asking her to choose a famous female Texan to study and report on. The boys were given a blue paper with a list of famous male Texans. And because our history books still favor men, there was a notable disparity in the types of people each group had to choose from. I am excited to be able to give this book to her to read and discuss to help her better understand just what those women fighting before her were fighting for, what they were fighting against, and how we must practice due diligence to make sure that those before us haven’t fought in vain – we can not let those rights slip away, and we must continue to fight for all rights to help create a just world that focuses on human rights. All human rights, because all people matter.
So, obviously, I highly recommend this book. I thought that it really took me not only into the time and helped me understand what was happening, but it did so through the eyes of a character who had a fiery passion and wrestled with her conscience to make difficult decisions that were not without cost, not only for her but for the people that she loved.
Published in January from Viking Juvenile.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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