YA Alternate History
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The Society has been at work almost since America’s founding, but even now in the 1920s, no one knows about it. At least no men. Presidents have no idea how their Wives have shaped their policies. Male voters don’t realize how their Wives and Mothers have quietly but deliberately influenced their choices. No one expects to see a Spinster with a Beretta, or a secret code embedded in a recipe. When girls are brought to the Society, they are assigned a role: from the protective Spinsters to the espionage-minded Gossips, everyone has a part to play.
Elsie is a Wife-to-be. Up until now, she’s been paying “social calls” to women in distress to help rescue them from domestic violence. But she knows that her role will be greater. She will marry a great man–just as her mother (a Mother) was tasked with raising a great man in Elsie’s brother–and then she will get to work, anonymously guiding her husband to the choices that will advance women’s rights. She’s been training for it for years. But when her assignment finally arrives–a priority one man who the Society has selected as a future president–Elsie suddenly isn’t sure of her role anymore. It’s not that Andrew doesn’t seem great, from his dossier at least, but in order to win the priority one assignment, she’ll have to beat out her closest friends and fellow Wives-to-be. And as the competition for Andrew’s affections gets underway, a long-simmering doubt can no longer be ignored. The Society relies on secrecy, on the invisibility of women and the discounting of their contributions. But more than ever, Elsie just wants to be seen.
I think this Jazz Age alternative history was written especially for me. Full of secret codes, espionage, heist-like missions, humor, feminism, and discussion of queer and trans rights, this book is both fun and though-provoking in the best ways. Elsie is a heroine you will love to cheer for (and wish you could vote for!). I highly recommend this wonderful novel to fans of quirky YA history and/or spy/heist books. There is definite crossover appeal for adult audiences.
Jane would have grown up a slave if not for the War Between the States. Instead, she grew up helping her white mother defend the plantation against the onslaught of the undead who began to rise after the Battle of Gettysburg. Although the agreement to end the War so that North and South could join forces against the undead shamblers included the abolition of slavery, Black people are far from equal—arguably not even free. When Jane was rounded up with the rest of the Black teens on the plantation and sent to a finishing school where she would train to defend wealthy white women from shamblers, she hoped it would be an opportunity to gain some sort of liberty and life experience. Instead, she finds herself hampered by the racism and sexism that pervade her society. But when she and a classmate uncover a deadly conspiracy, they find themselves in grave danger and caught between the desire for self-preservation and the knowledge that if they don’t do something, the entire world could be lost to the undead.
This novel is stunning: well-written, nuanced, thought-provoking, timely, and with a gripping and richly imagined historical sci-fi that is nearly impossible to put down. Jane is a compelling and complex protagonist, and it is a pleasure to root for her against both the zombies and the disturbing social institutions that try to hold her back. For all of its thrilling adventure, it never shies away from a powerful and disturbing look at racism and its impact. I loved every page and highly recommend it to teen and adult fans of sci-fi, dystopia, or even historical fiction.