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Book Review: A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

Yesterday, as part of the #SVYALit Project, we talked with Sharon Biggs Waller about A Mad, Wicked Folly. Yesterday’s chat was one of the few #SVYALit Project chats where I hadn’t already read the books before putting the project outline together. So I read AMWF this week. Here are my thoughts.

Victoria Darling wants nothing more than to be an artist. The problem is, she lives in London in the early 1900s and the only role that society has planned for her is wife and mother. And she doesn’t even get to choose who she will marry, that is dictated by things like station, class, and her parents.

When we first meet Vicky, she is sneaking away to take art classes. One fateful day, she agrees to pose nude for her class. When news gets back to her family, she is sent home in disgrace. Back at home, her family is trying to redeem their name and arrange for Vicky to marry a man, claiming she is lucky anyone will have her now. If Vicky doesn’t want to see her family fall from grace, she must play the role of dutiful daughter and wife successfully, but that also means that she must deny who she truly is and what she wants for herself.

At the same time, the Suffragette movement is starting to build and Vicky finds herself drawn to their cause. Why shouldn’t women get to vote, to go to college, to choose who they want to marry for themselves? She is also drawn to a man, a man who is not her fiancee’, but does turn out to be her artistic muse.


What we see in A Mad Wicked Folly is just what was at stake when women fought for their rights. For it’s not just Vicky who may lose, but she could cost her family everything: status, business contracts that allow them to support themselves. For Vicky, it means trying not only to get into an art school that will only let in a very small number of women, but trying to find a way to pay for it since she knows that her father who doesn’t believe in women’s education would never support it. In a way, some of the issues of this day very much mirror our current day: he who holds the purse strings has the greatest amount of power and influence.

As Waller mentioned in yesterday’s discussion, although Folly is specifically about the Suffragette movement, it is also a story about anyone who has ever come of age and had to make brave choices to sacrifice security and comfort to be faithful to their passion, to who they truly are inside. Throughout the story we see Vicky’s passion to art, he burning desire to study and grow and be considered among the great of her time, and you want for her to succeed. Anyone who has ever wrestled with acceptance can relate to Vicky’s struggle.

It was fascinating for me to be reading this right as the Women Against Feminism memes broke out on the Internet. Folly is a reminder of where Feminism came from, what it is, and why it mattered. And why it matters still today because although women have made tremendous strides, we know from stats like the percentage of women in Congress (around 20%) and from looking at women in the workforce (where they still make less on average then men doing the same job, where few boards have even a single female on them, and where women in the boardroom are still often assumed to be secretaries) that we still have a long ways to go in discussing equality. For a great take on Women Against Feminism, do be sure and check out what The Bloggess has to say. Sharks are mentioned. It is brilliant.

As a mother, I realized the importance of discussing these issues with my daughters when The Tween brought home a school assignment on pink paper asking her to choose a famous female Texan to study and report on. The boys were given a blue paper with a list of famous male Texans. And because our history books still favor men, there was a notable disparity in the types of people each group had to choose from. I am excited to be able to give this book to her to read and discuss to help her better understand just what those women fighting before her were fighting for, what they were fighting against, and how we must practice due diligence to make sure that those before us haven’t fought in vain – we can not let those rights slip away, and we must continue to fight for all rights to help create a just world that focuses on human rights. All human rights, because all people matter.

So, obviously, I highly recommend this book. I thought that it really took me not only into the time and helped me understand what was happening, but it did so through the eyes of a character who had a fiery passion and wrestled with her conscience to make difficult decisions that were not without cost, not only for her but for the people that she loved.

Published in January from Viking Juvenile.

Take a step back in time with guest blogger Jennifer McGowan (Historical ya fiction spotlight)

Earlier this week I confessed that Historical Fiction is my Achilles heel (I even managed to turn a post about historical fiction into a post about epidemics – I am that awesome) when it comes to collection development – so I enlisted help! Today I bring you a guest blog post by someone who writes historical ya fiction, Jennifer McGowan.  Her ya historical, Maid of Secrets, comes out in the spring.

Why in the World write YA Historicals?

With the recent boom in Young Adult fiction series such as Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Mortal Instruments and, of course, Harry Potter, the obvious sub-genre for an author interested in writing Young Adult novels would seem to range from contemporary paranormal to futuristic dystopian.  With novels like these, readers can explore larger-than-life magic or mythical beings or evil governments sprawling out of control… and escape into a world that just isn’t quite real. Seems like a terrific formula of success, doesn’t it?
So of course, I didn’t follow it.



Instead, not only did I choose to write YA Historical… but I wrote it about a group of fictional girls in Elizabethan England—a time period not exceptionally well known by most teen readers.  And although I was not entirely sure how my stories of Elizabethan spies would fare, I was thrilled when Simon & Schuster picked up the first two books in the series, starting with MAID OF SECRETS (debuting May 7, 2013).

As for choosing the Elizabethan time period for the setting of my novel, I blame my College History class. Under the instruction of Rev. John LaRocca, S.J. at Xavier University, I fell in love with the danger and royal intrigue of Queen Elizabeth’s court, and was awed by the incredible strength of will that she demonstrated during her extraordinary 44 year reign.  I became somewhat of a scholar on the subject of Elizabethan England, and learned that the men and women surrounding Elizabeth proved as fascinating as she was – her scheming Ladies in Waiting; the diabolical Sir Frances Walsingham, spymaster to the Queen; the shrewd strategist Lord William Cecil; and the endless round of suitors who pursued the unmarried Elizabeth for most of her life.

The Young Adult angle came later. When I decided to write about Elizabethan female spies, it seemed natural that they should be unmarried… which perforce made them younger (aged 15-18). In addition, I elected to set my tale at the very start of the Queen’s reign, when she was only twenty five years old. With that in mind, an author friend suggested that I write the story primarily for teens instead of adults, and MAID OF SECRETS was on its way.

Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan
Simon and Schuster for Young Readers
May 2013 ISBN: 9781442441408
Check it out on Goodreads

But Elizabethan England isn’t the only time period that has gained publisher and reader interest recently—in fact, some recent and upcoming novels help demonstrate exactly how diverse and intriguing the world of YA and Middle Grades Historical Fiction has become:

THE WICKED AND THE JUST, by J. Anderson  Coats, set in 13th Century England, is the story of medieval teens behaving badly in English-occupied Wales.  (debuted April, 2012)

THE KEY AND THE FLAME, by Claire M. Caterer, set in a fantasy version of Medieval England, is an MG tale in which an eleven-year-old American girl and her friends travel to an alternate universe of mystical adventure. (debuts April, 2013)

A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, by Sharon Biggs Waller, set against the backdrop of the women’s suffrage movement in 1909 England, tells the story of an Edwardian teen who, after getting expelled from her French boarding school, pursues her passion for art – and for an attractive police constable – despite the restrictions of her upper-class family. (debuts Winter, 2014)  

GILT, by Katherine Longshore, set in Tudor England, is the tale of a young woman who must learn to walk the fine line between secrets and treason when her best friend marries Henry VIII … and who discovers that in the Tudor court, the price of gossip could literally be her head.  (debuted May, 2012)

THE FALCONER, by Elizabeth May, set in 1844 Scotland, is the fantasy historical tale of a young Edinburgh socialite who endures the murder of her mother by a faery… and becomes a hunter of the fae. (debuts May, 2013)

BORN WICKED, by Jessica Spotswood, set in 1890s New England, is the story of three eccentric sisters who must keep their magic a secret from the repressive Brotherhood. (debuted June, 2012)

IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, by Cat Winters, set in WWI-era America, is the tale of a teen girl mourning the loss of her first love in 1918 California, where a flu has turned deadlier than a world war, and spirit communication has become a dark and dangerous obsession, illustrated with early-twentieth-century photographs. (debuts April 2013)

EVERY DAY AFTER, by Laura Golden, set in Depression-era Alabama, is the story of a young girl finding the true meaning of family when her father leaves, her mother is lost in sadness, her best friend betrays her, and the very roof over her head is at risk.  (debuts  June, 2013)

And of course 😉

MAID OF SECRETS, by Jennifer McGowan, set in Elizabethan England, is the story of a wry, resourceful thief forced to join an elite group of spies in Queen Elizabeth’s court—to find a murderer, save the crown, and resist the most forbidden temptation of all: falling in love. (debuts May, 2013)

These books I’ve listed above are just a small sample of what YA historical readers have in store, and all of the authors are members of the brand new historical blog http://corsetsandcutlasses.wordpress.com/.  So stayed tuned, keep reading, and let’s make a little history!
Jennifer McGowan writes Young Adult Elizabethan romance fiction full of swash and buckle. Her first novel, MAID OF SECRETS, debuts May 7, 2013 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. You can learn more about her at www.jennifermcgowan.com, or follow her online at @Jenn_Mcgowan.
What’s your favorite historical fiction title for yas? And what’s your favorite historical time period to read about?  Tell us in the comments.