I am a feminist*. Caitlin Moran told me I was one a few years ago, in her book How To Be A Woman, and after some careful thought, some critical reflection and quite a lot of hemming and hawing, I realised that she was right. YAY FEMINISM!
I’ve written about coming to this realisation a bit before on my other blog- mostly a few years ago, when I was still working out what I thought about the whole thing. As I’ve grown a bit older, and (I hope!) a bit wiser, I’ve needed to journal about the concept less and less, and would now go so far as to call myself a strident feminist – because the whole thing is much less of a tangle in my head than it was back then. (There are still tangles to work through, of course. Until recently, for example, I was shockingly ignorant about intersectional feminism, and I know I still have a lot of learning to do about the ways that race, class and sexuality can impact feminism.) To paraphrase the wonderful Caitlin – Am I a feminist? Hahaha! Of course I am!
I tell you all this to give a bit of background to how I’m about to write about my latest reads. It’s another YA trilogy (love a good YA trilogy), and another author who I encountered on Twitter before actually reading the books. I’d seen quite a lot online about this concept of a ‘Spinster Club’ – guessing from the context that it was something ironic, or to do with reclaiming the word spinster. However, as with everything I’ve read by Patrick Ness, reading the hype, the reader responses, and Holly Bourne’s Twitter feed left me inadequately prepared for the emotional impact of actually reading the books. I know I’ve said this a lot recently (I’ve been having a really good run of library picks, I think!) but honestly – please please everybody read these!!
The Spinster Club trilogy isn’t a sequential trilogy as such – I mean, the books do run in order chronologically, but each book is standalone as well, so you don’t have to read them all, or read them in order if you don’t want. (I do encourage you to do both of those things, though.)
Each story is different, focusing on one character (out of a friendship group of three) and what she’s working through; if I had to neatly sum it up, book one is about mental health, book two is about relationships (not just romantic ones) and book three is about feminism/sexism/activism – although really, they’re all about all three.
And they all broke my heart.
Yet again, I found myself quietly weeping on a rammed DLR during rush hour (thanks a lot, Holly Bourne!) but unable to put the book down. I just ached for these poor girls – I know they aren’t real girls, but the thing is, they are. Each girl’s story was familiar – either because I recognised myself in them or because I recognised my friends and family in them. The things they encounter really happen to real people today and tbh it’s just killing me all over again writing about it because the raw anger and empathy and sympathy and OUTRAGE at what girls – and women – face on a day to day basis is still welling up all fresh again!
Ahem. I shall compose myself.
Am I Normal Yet?
The first book in the trilogy probably taught me the most about experiences I haven’t had. It’s about Evie, a teenager dealing with more mental and emotional upheaval than the average teenager (and let’s face it, being a teenager is a whole heap of emotional and mental upheaval already, without adding mental health conditions into the mix). Evie has OCD, and all she wants is to be normal. It’s also the book where Evie meets Amber and Lottie, and they form the Spinster Club – Amber and Lottie go on to star in the next two books.
Having read the book, I don’t think I have ever wanted to reach into someone’s brain chemistry and just fix it for them more! Because here’s the thing about mental health conditions – they’re so hidden. I know people – some close to me, others less so – who have their own struggles, and I have wished (fruitlessly, of course) to wave a magic wand over their neurons many times; but I’ve never witnessed what it’s like to deal with what they’re dealing with in the worst moments. I still haven’t, of course – Evie is not real, and these people are… but through the magic of fiction, I feel like I’ve got closer to understanding what it’s like when it’s too bad for them to tell me what it’s like.
I would also like to publicly apologise for ever joking about having OCD. I haven’t used this turn of phrase for a long while now, but I did, and for longer than I did, I thought it was wrong and didn’t call it out. So I’m saying this now: liking things a certain way, liking things neat or in size and colour order, or having a small amount of anxiety when things are uncertain is not having OCD. OCD is a noun, not an adjective, and I sincerely regret my ignorance in ever speaking this way. I’m truly sorry.
How Hard Can Love Be?
This is Amber’s story. Amber is awkward, thinks she is unattractive, and arrives late to the whole dating game (although not through choice). Ahem. I can relate. She’s also got what used to be called a modern family situation – she lives with her dad, and her stepmother and stepbrother (those relationships are very difficult). Her mum lives in America, and that relationship is difficult too. Romantic relationships are also difficult – mostly because she’s not really having any (and how the absence of these can make a girl feel… well, difficult!). The story definitely looks at boys and dating, but it also explores Amber’s other relationships – with her friends, with her family, and with concepts like responsibility and home.
What’s A Girl Gotta Do?
This is the one that got the rage swelling. This is Lottie’s story – Lottie is a lot like I was at her age, although she got the whole feminism deal waaaaaaay earlier than I did. Still, I identified – academically up there, opinionated, prone to monologues and occasionally haranguing loved ones in the mistaken belief that they’re doing it wrong. Sparked by an incident of sexism that leaves her shaken and angry with herself for not responding and challenging the perpetrator (again, I can relate here), Lottie comes up with a feminism project designed to call out everyday sexism and OH BOY OH WOW OHMIGOSH CRIKEY PYJAMAS IS THERE A LOT TO GET MAD ABOUT.
To be honest, you guys, I actually can’t even write coherently about this because I’m too angry still. I found the image above by running a Google image search for ‘feminist’ and just… the hatred, the ignorance, the foulness and sheer vitriol of some of what I saw is absolutely breathtaking. Still!
Anyway. I’m not going to write my feminist manifesto here – this is where I write about books, not where I journal or get on my soapbox (when I can help it…!). I’m also aware that as a reader (if you’ve got this far – well done!) you either already agree with my views, in which case YAY I don’t need to convince you, or you actively disagree with my views, in which case a ranty emotional book review is not going to change your mind, and you probably won’t read the books – although if this is you, please consider giving them a chance!
On the offchance that you’re on the fence about feminism (or feminism and mental health, or feminism and relationships, or feminism and young women, or feminism expressed in different ways) then instead of trying the shot in the dark that is a blog post, I gently and respectfully encourage you to read these books – or even the one I referenced at the start of this post, the one which inspired the author of this trilogy, and which changed my world view; How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran. Or, y’know – I’m always always happy to have an actual real life conversation about this stuff!
So yes – these books were absolutely worth the hype, and more. They’re well written, easy to access – sure, they’re marketed at teenage girls (mostly because the main characters are teenage girls) but if you’re not a dedicated YA reader (not all of us are!) don’t let that put you off! The characters are beautifully drawn and achingly real and HOLY GUACAMOLE IS THE SUBJECT MATTER IMPORTANT!!
Ahem. Soapbox again, sorry. I apologise for the shouty capitals.
Thank you, Holly Bourne, for writing these wonderful books. Thank you for writing experiences I recognise as my own and as my friends’, and those I don’t recognise but needed to learn about. Thank you for putting feminist literature out in the world (which absolutely almost definitely means you have had to personally deal with awful awful vitriolic hatred and abuse in return). And thank you for reminding me why feminism is important to me and that the patriarchy literally drives women mad… and for doing in a way that is gracious and inclusive. You rock.