The Once and Future Witches: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“We may be either beloved or burned, but never trusted with any degree of power.”

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. HarrowThere’s no such thing as witches in New Salem in 1893. But there used to be. You can still catch traces of them in the witch-tales collected by the Sisters Grimm; in the stories of the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone–the Last Three–as they struggled to preserve the final vestiges of their power. You can hear them, the ones who came before and burned before, in the second name every mother gives every daughter, and in the special words shared only in whispered songs and stories.

Once upon a time in this world, on the spring equinox of 1893, there are three sisters. James Juniper Eastwood is the youngest. She is wild, she is canny, she is feral. She is running away or running toward. She is lost.

Agnes Amaranth is the middle sister–the one the witch-tales say isn’t destined for adventure. She is the strongest of the three, the steadiest. She is the one who is supposed to take care of her sisters until she has to choose between them and surviving–until she becomes weak.

Beatrice Belladonna is the eldest; the wisest. She is the quiet one, the listening one who loves books almost as much as her sisters. Until seven years away break her down. Until she recognizes herself as a fool.

Maybe these three sisters are the start of the story. Maybe they’re the start of something bigger. In the beginning, there’s still no such thing as witches. But there will be in The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow.

Find it on Bookshop.

A prologue and epilogue from Juniper frame what is otherwise an omniscient third person narration shifting between the three sisters as, against all odds, they cross paths for the first time in seven years at a women’s suffrage rally in St. George Square in New Salem.

The Once and Future Witches is thick with betrayals and misunderstandings as Juniper still harbors anger and resentment at being left behind while both Agnes and Bella struggle with their own reasons for leaving the others behind. Themes of both sisterhood and feminism weave this story together as the Eastwood girls try to tap into magic long thought lost and reclaim everything that has been stolen from them and so many other women.

At more than five hundred pages, this is an unwieldy book. All of the sisters have their own secret stories and hurts which Harrow explores alongside the grander narrative of discovering how witching was eradicated and how it might be reclaimed. The characters are careful to acknowledge white privilege as the mainstream suffrage movement excludes women of color and the world also hints at indigenous witches in Mississippi and out west. However, given the scope of the story, Harrow’s efforts at inclusion often feel like faint hints in this alternate history rather than concrete changes.

The Once and Future Witches is a complex alternate history wrapped in folklore, fairy tales, and a plaintive rallying cry for equality centering three sisters as they find their way back to the sisterhood and the magic they had thought long lost to them.

Possible Pairings: Spellbook For the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One by Amanda Lovelace, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski

Votes for Women! American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot: A Non-Fiction Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Votes for Women! American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot by Winifred Conkling Votes for Women! American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot (2018) by Winifred Conkling is engaging narrative non-fiction at its best.

This book offers a nuanced history of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States from the Seneca Falls convention through to the momentous vote that ratified the nineteenth amendment with the moments leading up to the vote and its aftermath framing the book as prologue and epilogue.

Most of the book is follows Elizabeth Cady Stanton from her birth through to the moment that she realized women having the right to vote was key to equal rights and her subsequent dedication to the suffrage movement. Letters and ephemera highlight Stanton’s abiding friendship with Susan B. Anthony and other women within the suffrage and prohibition movements–two groups that often overlapped. They also underscore some of the inner conflicts that are not often covered in broad strokes about this moment in history.

The last few chapters of the book shift the focus to Alice Paul and Lucy Burns with their more militant approach to the fight for women’s suffrage including their numerous arrests, hunger strikes, forced feedings, and nonviolent protest.

Votes for Women! is frank in a way that many history books are not. Conkling covers some of the uglier moments of the suffrage movement thoughtfully, including the ways in which the suffrage movement divided when faced with choosing between votes for women or votes for African American men. No one within the movement was perfect and the fight for suffrage as a whole often disregarded women of color as well as the poor and working class–something that Conkling writes about thoughtfully and without apology.

The end of the book includes extensive end notes, timelines, resources, and more.

Votes for Women! is a thorough and comprehensive history with short chapters, engaging narrative and even suspense after all these years. Timely and empowering, Votes for Women! is a vital read in this current political climate. Highly recommended.

Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Winifred about Votes for Women starting tomorrow!

Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass: A Picture Book Review

“So many speeches to give.

“So many articles to write.

“So many minds to change.”

Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina AlkoSusan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass are both vocal advocates for equal rights in their time. In Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass (2016) by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, Robbins imagines what it must have been like when Anthony and Douglass met at her home to discuss their ideas.

Although Two Friends is a fictionalized account, it is based on a very real friendship. Douglass and Anthony became friends in the mid-1800s in Rochester, New York. Throughout her life Anthony advocated for women’s rights–including the right to vote. Douglass spent his life fighting for African American rights. The pair also supported each others’ causes and often made appearances together.

Robbins uses the frame of one of Douglass and Anthony’s visits to present a larger picture of their efforts to gain equal rights and fight for their respective causes in Two Friends. The story also highlights key points in both of their lives that led to their dedication to speak out for freedom and equality.

The text throughout Two Friends is presented in short sentences or very small paragraphs making this a great choice to read-aloud. The words are also spread out across the page so readers are never faced with daunting chunks of text. At the end of the book, Robbins talks slightly more in depth about Anthony and and Douglass in a page-long author’s not. A bibliography is also included along with actual photographs of both Douglass and Anthony.

The illustrations by husband-and-wife team Qualls and Alko are gorgeous and add a nice dimension to the story with some additional text elements added into some of the collages. The artwork stays true to Anthony and Douglass’ likenesses while also maintaining the style that Qualls and Alko developed in their first illustrative collaboration, The Case for Loving. Pops of bright color serve as a nice contrast against some of the darker winter backdrops in some of the spreads.

It is worth noting that some of the historical context for life as a woman and life a freed slave are simplified. For instance the text notes that Susan’s mother can’t go to college or own a house but it stops short of saying that women were considered property at this point in history. Two Friends also states that slaves had to do everything the master said but stops short of explaining that slaves were property and bought and sold by owners. Are either of these things something that should feature in a picture book? It’s hard to say. But the absence–even in the author’s note at the end of the book–seems glaring.

As with many picture books, Two Friends adopts a certain symmetry between Douglass and Anthony’s lives. Because of their similar causes, these similarities make sense within the context of the narrative.

Two Friends is a solid picture book introduction to Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass as historical figures and can serve as an excellent entry point to non-fiction/biography titles on both. Stunning artwork makes Two Friends even better. A great addition to any collection.