Things a Bright Girl Can Do

Written by Sally Nicholls
Review by Lisa Redmond

Sally Nicholls’ latest young adult novel is a detailed and vivid account of three young women in Edwardian England, connected by their interest in the woman’s suffrage movement. Evelyn is bright and studious and longs to go to Oxford; May is a Quaker who doesn’t support the violent campaigns of the suffragettes, though she does fall head over heels for suffragette Nell, who dresses like a boy and hates the restrictions placed on her because of her gender and her class. The three characters’ lives intertwine as the campaigns grow in strength and the threat of war becomes a reality. Nell’s and May’s families are supportive of the suffragette struggle, but Evelyn’s is appalled and does all they can to dissuade her. The characters are brilliantly drawn and developed as each girl struggles with her identity and the restrictions of the world they live in.

Nicholls doesn’t stint on showing us the difficulty that women faced in their campaign for suffrage: the ridicule, the anger. Nor does she hold back on describing the difficulties women faced on the home front throughout the war: the shortage of food and money and how diligently they threw themselves into war-work, hoping that the vote would be their reward. While the characters in this novel are fictional, much of the detail of meetings, riots, etc. is not. Nicholls has researched and recreated the era impeccably, and despite the heaviness of the subject matter there is deftness and humour in the characters. Even if you already know the history it is Evelyn, May and Nell that will make you read on.

Suitable for older children and young adults.