A rollicking feminist tale set in 1950s America where thousands of women have spontaneously transformed into dragons, exploding notions of a woman’s place in the world and expanding minds about accepting others for who they really are. • The first adult novel by the Newbery award-winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Alex Green is a young girl in a world much like ours, except for its most seminal event: the Mass Dragoning of 1955, when hundreds of thousands of ordinary wives and mothers sprouted wings, scales, and talons; left a trail of fiery destruction in their path; and took to the skies. Was it their choice? What will become of those left behind? Why did Alex’s beloved aunt Marla transform but her mother did not? Alex doesn’t know. It’s taboo to speak of.
Forced into silence, Alex nevertheless must face the consequences of this astonishing event: a mother more protective than ever; an absentee father; the upsetting insistence that her aunt never even existed; and watching her beloved cousin Bea become dangerously obsessed with the forbidden.
In this timely and timeless speculative novel, award-winning author Kelly Barnhill boldly explores rage, memory, and the tyranny of forced limitations. When Women Were Dragons exposes a world that wants to keep women small—their lives and their prospects—and examines what happens when they rise en masse and take up the space they deserve.
What’s it about (in a nutshell):
When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill is a poignant look at the subjugation of women throughout history and what it took for them to break free from the knots that bind them.
Reading the blurb, I expect a unique women empowerment story of down-trodden women metamorphosing into dragons. It sounds like it will be poignant, horrifying, and ultimately utterly heartfelt and rallying. I’ve read a few empowerment stories lately, and this one stands out because of the fantasy angle. I wonder if women turning into dragons is a metaphor. Lastly, the cover is gorgeous, and if you look closely enough, you will see the dragon hidden among the foliage.
Actual Reading Experience:
First off, I love dragons in stories, and the thought of women breaking free from all the patriarchal knots by becoming dragons made my heart happy on so many levels. The poetic justice of it all did not escape my notice, but I also loved that the women found power in a place that couldn’t even be touched by men. The dragon world is an exciting and shocking take on what a women-dominated world might look like.
I love that the book is set in the 1950s-1960s. That period happened in the near enough future for any reader to relate and marvel at the changes that have taken place since then. It made me think about my grandparents and their marriages in a whole new light. And to think of hundreds of thousands of women turning into dragons during that time, with the reaction that tells that period, is just a perfect juxtaposition.
The metaphors abound in this story, as I anticipated that they would. From the knot metaphors to the dragons themselves – it’s all about women’s need to be who they are meant to be without a patriarchal society dictating who and what they will become. I love a good women empowerment story, and When Women Were Dragons did not disappoint on that in the least.
At first, the pace is relatively slower but builds once the dragons take flight. Overall, this is a quick read that flowed with cleverness and passion as women reveled in their ability to break free and soar – metaphorically and actually. All the attributes I anticipated were spot on, and I definitely appreciate a book that delivers on my expectations.
This beautiful story’s main character and the narrator is Alexandra (“it’s Alex. “) Green. When the book begins, she is only four years old. The book ends when she is in her golden years, so the reader gets to experience her life’s journey with all the challenges and pitfalls of a woman growing up in the 50s and 60s. Her first-person perspective gives the story a poignancy and provides a greater understanding of how women could choose not to break free of the system, which is foiled nicely by the women choosing to take a new form. Her telling of this story makes it possible to see all sides of the bigger story and not from today’s perspective but from the perspective of that period.
Reminds Me Of:
I’ve been reading several women empowerment stories lately, the most notable of which is Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, which happens to be set in the same period. I think a book group reading both books and doing a compare and contrast would be a fantastic suggestion.
To Read or Not to Read:
If you are looking for a clever women’s empowerment story with a fantasy bent to it, When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill is just the book for you and will leave you passionate about empowering women worldwide.