Book Review – Secret Suffragette by Barbara Mitchelhill

books, reviews

Rating: 4 out of 5.

So, my week’s holiday is over and, after an initial success, my reading went downhill pretty rapidly. Meaning I was in an all too familiar situation for this week’s second book review. I had nothing. Thankfully, my first day back was full of repetitive and dull tasks which allowed me to listen to a quick audiobook. After my previous read, I was in the mood for something that didn’t set women back several decades and one that elevated women. So, this feminist historical novel seemed perfect.

12-year-old Daisy has a simple dream of growing up to be a nurse like her hero Florence Nightingale. Or at least it would have been a simple dream if she wasn’t growing up in the East End in 1912. Whilst Daisy spends her days hoping to attend the Florence Nightingale school of nursing, her dad would rather she stays at home to look after her twin brothers or get a job in a factory. When she meets a group of suffragettes fighting to get women the vote, Daisy sees that there might actually be more to her life than manual labour for a pitiful wage. The only problem is that it’s a dangerous pursuit and she’ll have to avoid getting caught out by her dad or maybe even the police.

I was pretty sure that I’d love this book because I love anything that presents feminist ideas in a digestible way. As a historical story, this book provides a lot of information about the suffragettes and what they were fighting for. It also captures the misogynistic attitude of that period remarkably well. Daisy experiences a lot of patronising behaviour from the boys in her class and the people in her community. Then there’s the fact that her mother gets fired for sticking up for a woman she worked with. Everywhere Daisy looks she sees that women don’t have it fair. Something that just doesn’t make sense for her or her mother.

This book perfectly captures the desire for change and the risks that these women were facing. Secret Suffragette doesn’t paint the full awful picture of the movement but it doesn’t shy away from the darkness. We see glimpses of police brutality and the reaction from many of the men at the time. Even Daisy’s dad gets angry and violent with his wife and daughter. It’s not exactly a scary book but it isn’t all light-hearted. We don’t get to see the suffragette fight through rose-tinted glasses and I guess it might be a lot for some younger readers.

However, I think this is a very good read. It has plenty of context and some really inspirational characters. It’s an easy and quick read, which also helps. I understand that the story is simplified for younger readers but I do wish the ending hadn’t been quite so rushed. I don’t begrudge it the inevitably happy ending but it all gets very fairy tale. Something that feels at odds with the rest of the book. Still, it’s a very minor criticism that doesn’t actually take anything away from the story. This is the kind of book that I wish had been around when I was a kid. It does such a great job of breaking down such an important part of history for younger readers.

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