Book Review: A Tyranny of Petticoats

A Tyranny of Petticoats
Edited By: Jessica Spotswood
Published By: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: March 8, 2016
Page Count: 354
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Audience: Young Adult - Historical Fiction Anthology

I am an avid reader of historical fiction so when this beauty came across my radar I couldn't wait to read it. I was further excited because it featured so many of my favorite writers. Women have always been present, but their stories are often left out of the historical record - especially the further you go back in time. Each of these short stories focuses on a woman who is fighting against some norm in her time. There is a little something for everyone in this anthology. The heroines are from varying ethnicities, locations, backgrounds, and time periods. There are stories spanning from the 1700's up to the 1960's. I found myself more drawn to the stories set in the 1700's and 1800's as those are my areas of greatest historical interest, but I found that this is one of those rare anthologies where I enjoyed every single story. I loved the mixture of pure historical, paranormal, and legend. I encourage all historical fiction readers to meet these fifteen courageous leading ladies. I love that this anthology gives a voice to girls and women; their history is just as important as the male dominated history that graces our history textbooks. I also found myself wanting full novels about each of these main characters. Furthermore, I have found some new authors to add to my TBR list.

Story #1: "Mother Carey's Table" by J. Anderson Coates
1710 - British North America
Rating = 5

Jocasta has been living as a boy named Joe ever since her father escaped slavery with her in tow. The pair have been making their living on pirate ships. Joe doesn't think she could live without feeling the rock of the waves beneath her feet. At the beginning of the story, readers get their first glimpse of birds that the sailors refer to as Mother Carey's chickens. The black birds are portents of storms and danger. Joe holds great stock in the sightings of these birds, but tries not to let it keep her from making a name for herself when the captain asks the crew for a dangerous favor. As the story progresses, the legend of Mother Carey is unveiled. I was not familiar with this legend, but found it to be intriguing and creepy. I also learned from the author's note that 25% of the sailors on pirate or privateer ships were people of color. 

I wonder if I knew them. They were once men, and I've seen my fair share of floating corpses since I was a cabin boy. These birds are the souls of drowned sailors who've escaped the wife of Davy Jones and returned to warn seamen of storms. ~ pg. 3

Story #2: "The Journey" by Marie Lu
1723 - The Great Land
Rating = 5

Yakone lives in the far Northern wilds of Alaska. She is an Inuit who lives a peaceful life with her tribe. Men are hunters who find whales and seals to feed the tribe while the women stay behind and keep the home. Yakone learns a lot from her mother, but craves more than just the domestic life. As an only child, she has no brother to learn the traditional hunting ways and carry on the family legacy. She begs her father to teach her and finally he relents. He promises after the next hunting excursion, she will help him deliver the spoils to neighboring tribes, but tragedy strikes when white Europeans appear. They do not value life and the land as the Inuit do. The clash of cultures leads to death and fear. Yakone is forced to flee and face the dangers of the tundra on her own. Part history and part legend, "The Journey" is the story of one girl's will to survive. As Marie Lu stated in her author's note, there is often a "... blurred line between history and Inuit folklore" (pg. 41).

"The world grows smaller," she finally said. "And small worlds cultivate greed. It is a grievous sin." ~ pg. 39

Story #3: "Madeleine's Choice" by Jessica Spotswood
1826 - New Orleans, Louisiana
Rating = 5

Madeleine is a young woman from a freed family in the French Quarter. Her mother is the product of a mixed relationship and does not wish for her daughter to go down that path. It is against the law in Louisiana for people of different races to marry. Madeleine could never be anything more than a mistress to a white man, but she doesn't want to think about that as she has fallen in love with Antoine, a dashing young man from one of the wealthiest families in the area. She convinces herself that loving him is enough, but she knows her parents will not see things that way. They want a true marriage for her with someone from a good family in the Quarter. Madeleine finds herself at a crossroads and she must choose between two very different paths. This choice leads her to the doorstep of the famous Marie Laveau. I was fascinated by the social structure and views of the varying group within New Orleans' African American community.

...face scrunching up till she looks like a pecan... ~ pg. 43 (I love this imagery!)

Story #4: "El Destinos" by Leslye Walton
1848 - Southwest Texas
Rating = 5

Three young girls are found in the middle of the Texas desert and adopted by a childless couple. Their parents are clueless in the beginning that they have taken in the Fates in the guise of children. It becomes clear as the girls grow that they are something more than human, but the couple loves them fiercely and their community accepts them warily. The notion of the Fates appears in many cultures and I loved watching Walton put her own spin on it while adding in elements of Tejano culture. Walton's use of language is gorgeous and the imagery is vivid.

Folks around here like to say we came from the stars. Perhaps its simpler to think of us as not human but as creatures made of stardust - that if you cut us, not blood but constellations will pour from our wounds. ~ pg. 65

Story #5: "High Stakes" by Andrea Cremer
1861 - Boston, Massachusetts & Natchez, Mississippi
Rating = 5

This was my favorite story of them all! I am a huge fan of Cremer's work. I would love to see an entire series devoted to Klio and this universe. Cremer always does a beautiful job of infusing the supernatural into authentic historical settings. Klio, the main character, is from a rare supernatural race who is highly sought as a skilled assassin. Other beings who make appearances include witches/warlocks, vampires, werewolves, sidhe, goblins, djinn, and necromancers. The supernatural world co-exists along the normal world, but the supernaturals are the ones with all the power. They have had a hand in determining the outcome of every U.S. war. I was intrigued by the notion that these groups were making decisions behind the scenes and guiding our country in the direction of their choice.

"The vampires have ties with Southern planters that go back to the first colonial settlements," Stuart said. "And the wolves haven't made it known whether they support the Union or the Confederacy. The stubborn beasts refuse to ally or confer with any other faction. Since they made their support of the British known before all the other factions declared for the Americans in the War of Independence, they've gotten it into their furry heads that the rest of us colluded against them." ~ pg. 95

Story #6: "The Red Raven Ball" by Caroline Tung Richmond
1862 - Washington, D.C.
Rating = 5

This is another story set during the US Civil War. Lizzie comes from a family with an illustrious history that is known for their wealth and extravagance throughout the D.C. area. Lizzie's grandmother is putting pressure on her to find a well connected husband to increase the family's wealth and clout, but Lizzie isn't keen on the idea of getting married so young. On the night of the famed ball her grandmother hosts each fall, Lizzie is more concerned with tracking down a Confederate spy for her uncle, a Union officer, than finding a husband. As I was reading, I was reminded of Rose Greenhow, a historical figure who has longed fascinated me. I was pleased to see her referenced in the author's note.

For over a year, our nation has been torn asunder between North and South, but will a war stop Grandmama from hosting her favorite fete? Certainly not. ~ pg. 109

Story #7: "Pearls" by Beth Revis
1876 - Chicago, Illinois & Cheyenne, Wyoming
Rating = 5

Helen is the only daughter from a wealthy Chicago family. As such, there are extremely high standards for her behavior and education. She is expected to marry well, but scandal erupts and forces Helen to take charge of her own destiny. She refuses to remain in a world where she has no voice. She packs her bags and accepts a teaching position at a school in Wyoming. Life in Cheyenne is vastly different than Chicago, but Helen soon settles into her life as a teacher on the frontier. Her schoolhouse moments called to mind memories from Little House on the Prairie, Christie, and Hattie Big Sky. As these are all treasured favorites, I felt an instant connection with Helen. I enjoyed learning about the school structure. I admired Helen for her courage and tenacity. I also have a soft spot for her pupil, Annie.

I clutch the ticket in my hand at the station. The thin paper seems flimsy and weak, nothing at all what freedom should feel like. ~ pg. 140

Story #8: "Gold in the Roots of the Grass" by Marissa Meyer
1877 - Deadwood, Dakota Territory
Rating = 5

Deadwood was a thriving town during its Gold Rush. That's how Sun Fei-Yen finds herself living in the frontier town instead of her beloved San Francisco. After her mother's death, her uncle becomes her guardian and uproots her for the chance to make more money in Deadwood. While her uncle makes a living providing a laundry service, Fei-Yen brings in funds with her skills as a shaman. She is able to see ghosts and contact spirits. If the spirit her customer seeks won't communicate, Fei-Yen is also skilled enough to weave a believable tale. During a routine job, James Hill, the ghost of a recently murdered young man appears to her. James needs help to ensure that his mother and little brother are well set before he finds his way to the afterlife. Fei-Yen grudgingly agrees to help him and finds herself in the middle of sinister deeds. I loved the twists and turns of this one. The theme of greed runs throughout the veins of this story. My heart still breaks a little thinking of how horribly Native tribes were treated by white settlers and the US government. This was my second favorite story in the anthology.

On every hillside I could see the ghosts of the Sioux, donning their animal skins and bear-claw necklaces and glowering at the trespassers who trampled their ground. A treaty had once promised that the Black Hills would be theirs for the keeping, but those signatures meant nothing once gold was found - so much gold it grew up from the roots of the grass the newspapers reported. ~ pg. 169

Story #9: "The Legendary Garrett Girls" by Y.S. Lee
1898 - Skaguay, Alaska
Rating = 5

Lily and Clara Garrett were women well beyond their time. They grew up in saloons throughout the Pacific Northwest. After their mother dies, they take her saloon lessons and head to Alaska to open their own place. The girls have a thriving business in Skaguay until Jeff Smith aka Soapy comes to town. Soapy is a ruthless con artist who has the local law in his pocket and craves every dollar he can get his grubby paws on. He uses force and intimidation to get his way and he has set his sights on the Garrett's saloon. The girls have little choice but to meet Soapy's demands, but they hatch a plot to leave the saloon on their own terms. I love the wit of these sisters. I was also reminded of my trip to Alaska. I visited the town of Skaguay and found it easy to visualize the sisters there. I also perked up at the mention of the White Pass. A train ride through the neighboring areas took us along a ridge where we could see the Pass and where regaled by stories by our guide about the treacherous route. I always enjoy stories written about places I have been. It's such fun to think of walking the same streets as historical figures - both real and fictional.

Still, I admire his nerve. Two feet from the end of a loaded rifle, and he's swearing at us using curses so inventive that even I, who grew up in a saloon, find them educational. ~ pg. 206

Story #10: "The Color of the Sky" by Elizabeth Wein
1926 - Jacksonville, Florida & Dallas, Texas
Rating = 5

Elizabeth Wein is known for her historical fiction that focuses on female aviators. This short story is no exception as it provides a portrait of the last hours of the famed aviator, Bessie Coleman. Tony, the main character, is a high school student who is fascinated by physics and aviation. She lives in a time where a few more opportunities are opening up for women of color, but segregation still clutches the South in an iron fist. Bessie Coleman challenges both the color and gender barriers with her tenacity and skill. She is the first American (of any race or color) to receive a foreign pilots license after flocking to France. Nobody in the US would teach her to fly, but the French did not have the same aversion to her education. Bessie captivated so many during her brief life. Tony goes to the airfield in Jacksonville to ask Bessie questions and watch a test flight, but her excitement over the afternoon soon turns to horror when she witnesses the accident that will take Bessie Coleman's life. Tony finds herself in possession of a flight journal and decides she must return it to Dallas. This is a story of forging your own path and seeing beyond your own neighborhood.

To know that in some people's eyes, the only color was the sky behind you. ~ pg. 237

Story #11: "Bonnie & Clyde" by Saundra Mitchell
1934 - Indiana
Rating = 4

The main character of this one is a teenage girl who is angrier than a wet hen about the Great Depression. She's frustrated that the banks are calling in loans when they know good and well that nobody has the money to pay them. As more and more people in her town lose their businesses and homes, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She becomes a Robin Hood of sorts and begins robbing banks to help her family and neighbors. This was a fun little tale that was enjoyable, but didn't resonate as strongly as some of the others in the anthology. I also fully admit that the Great Depression isn't one of my favorite events in history to study. I also was slightly sad that while this did have a Bonnie and Clyde influence, it was not about the infamous couple. I did find myself envisioning the main character as a grown up version of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. This seems just like something she would have enjoyed doing.

It was the same all over - our town in Indiana, yours wherever you are, all them ones out in dusty, dusty Kansas. The money dried up. The work did too.

Finally, so did the people. They turned into husks, blown away by bad fortune. ~ pg. 244

Story #12: "Hard Times" by Katherine Longshore
1934 - Washington State
Rating = 5

This was another Great Depression tale, but it focused on a different aspect. While Mitchell's story focused on a girl who stayed home, Longshore chose to share the story of a teen who was a runaway. Many teens during the Depression left home in order to make things slightly easier on their families. One less mouth to feed was often a blessing for struggling families, but I can't imagine the heartbreak that accompanied the choice to leave. Rosie aka Curls has been making her way from Nebraska to Seattle for weeks. Along her journeys she met Billy, a young boy, who has lost everything. The pair decide to stick together and form a new family of sorts. As they prepare to leave a migrant camp on the banks of the Columbia River, they meet Lloyd, an intrepid young reporter whose father has sent him to research the camp to prove its a danger to the town. Lloyd and Rosie find that their notions about the way world works may not be entirely accurate and that hope can exist in the darkest of places. I also loved the Seattle references in this one.

"I want to dig deep into the truth and aerate it so roots can take hold." ~ pg. 270

Story #13: "City of Angels" by Lindsay Smith
1945 - Los Angeles
Rating = 4

Evie is a riveter at a plant in Los Angeles. She supports the war effort and makes some cash by working on the planes the Allies will fly over Europe and the Pacific. Her boyfriend, James, is in the thick of the fighting, but promised her he'd return and marry her someday. Evie is biding her time at the factory during the day and working on screen plays at night. Her life begins to shift when Frankie is assigned to work with her. At first, Evie can't stand Frankie and her silly stories, but as time goes by the pair become fast friends. Frankie teaches Evie to lighten up a bit and to question the status quo. Evie begins to consider her feelings for James and her writing which bring her to realize that maybe her feelings for Frankie go beyond friendship. I didn't find Evie to be a character that I could relate to easily and Frankie was somewhat annoying.

Too often, she flitted toward me too. Endless questions, like I was some jigsaw puzzle someone had left out that she was determined to finish. ~ pg. 275

Story #14: "Pulse of the Panthers" by Kekla Magoon
1967 - California
Rating = 5

Sandy lives on a farm in rural California with her conservative grandmother and her progressive father. In my mind, I couldn't help thinking of the grandmother as a representative of the passive ideals of Booker T. Washington and the father as a representative of the active ideals of W.E.B. DuBois. While this story takes place in a different time than the one in which Washington and DuBois lived, the issue of racial inequality still dominated life. California was far more progressive than the Deep South, but things were still nowhere near equal. The Black Panther party was a new approach to the race issue. College students formed the organization which was not above using violence. Sandy's father invites the Panthers to their farm to practice target shooting and to gather for a meeting. Sandy watches from the edges as her father has forbidden her to actively participate, but the appearance of the Panthers makes her think there is a bigger world beyond the dirt road that runs from the farm into town. 

Courage, I thought, meant breaking the rules. Putting yourself on the line. There was a line somewhere, I knew. I'd just never come up on it. ~ pg. 315

Story #15: "The Whole World is Watching" by Robin Talley
1968 - Chicago, Illinois
Rating: 4

Vietnam inspired Americans to feel passionately. Some were passionate about supporting the war while others were passionate about protesting the US involvement. Many young men were sent to fight in the jungles of Southeast Asia regardless of their political opinions about the conflict. Protests often became violent - either due to protestors actions or the actions of those sent to squelch the event. This story focuses on a famous protest in Grant Park. To be perfectly candid, the protests movements in the 1960's have never been an area of personal interest. As such, I liked this story, but not as much as the others. It was well written and featured a diverse cast of characters facing issues beyond the protest. As with other Talley writings, characters are struggling to find out who they really are in a time period that may not be accepting of those choices.

There's something hypnotic about a good protest. Standing with dozens or hundreds or thousands of people who all want the same thing you do. Calling out for it together from the depths of your soul. ~ pg. 328

One Last Gripe: I would have liked to see a story about a disabled female and how she fit into her historical time period.

Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved the stories with a paranormal element.

First Sentence: I grew up right outside Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, site of perhaps the most decisive battle in the Civil War.

Favorite Character: Klio from "High Stakes" by Andrea Cremer

Least Favorite Character: Soapy from "The Legendary Garrett Girls" by Y.S. Lee

From an impressive sisterhood of YA writers comes an edge-of-your-seat anthology of historical fiction and fantasy featuring a diverse array of daring heroines.

Criss-cross America — on dogsleds and ships, stagecoaches and trains — from pirate ships off the coast of the Carolinas to the peace, love, and protests of 1960s Chicago. Join fifteen of today’s most talented writers of young adult literature on a thrill ride through history with American girls charting their own course. They are monsters and mediums, bodyguards and barkeeps, screenwriters and schoolteachers, heiresses and hobos. They're making their own way in often-hostile lands, using every weapon in their arsenals, facing down murderers and marriage proposals. And they all have a story to tell.


  1. I love that book title! And thanks for this review. I think I would really enjoy this book too. I have already read an Elizabeth Wein book, but the other authors are all new to me.

    Stephanie Jane @ Literary Flits


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