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Book Review: The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton

Although some things exist in places out of reach, that doesn’t mean they cannot be.

Restless girlsThe Restless Girls by Jessie Burton is a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale, with gorgeous illustrations by Angela Barrett. In my library it is shelved with the other junior novels, for readers about 9-12, but I think it is an ageless story that anyone could love. And certainly if you pay attention at all to women’s rights, this will resonate.

As I read the story about Frida and her eleven sisters, who are locked in a single room by their father, the king, in order to keep them safe, I thought about all the ways that society continues to damage girls, and the ways that damage influences the women we become. The concept of “protect women because they are precious and easily hurt” is a different form of damage than outright violence, but still damaging. Putting women on a pedestal like that damages them because it limits (severely, in many cases) the choices they can make. For me, the pedestal my religion puts women on has impacted my entire adult life, as even as I recognized the fancy cage they put me in (for my safety, of course) and made my little efforts to knock it down, I still also embraced it. I still made choices that then allowed them to limit my other choices. The sisters in the story do their very best to not uphold the cage, and the end is satisfying, but still. Still.

I am so tired of stories about women being damaged by men.

Not tired of reading them, but tired of the fact that they continue to be told because they continue to happen. In one sense, the twelve princesses’ story is a story of brave women overthrowing their captors. But in another sense it is the continued story of what it means to be a woman in a society controlled by men. And yes, I hear that choir of voices starting up, the one that says things have changed, women have rights, feminism’s work is done here. But the truth is—and you only need to look at Texas for confirmation—that it is not and it never will be, because even if we do ever manage to gain actual equality, we will always continue to need to fight for it. Men will always want to hold all the power.

And thus we need these stories of brave women who overcome.

(Although I'm posting this in 2022, I read it in 2021.)

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