Review: “A Mad, Wicked Folly” by Sharon Biggs Waller

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Friends, it’s time for an admission. It’s a rather big one, one that I am hesitant to make because of the connotations it might bring. It’s not an admission that many readers, much less bloggers, are willing to outwardly make. Ready?

I am not a big fan of historical books.

Gasp! Okay, there, I said it. And really, it’s not that big of a deal, but it did make me wonder – what was I doing being so attracted to A MAD WICKED FOLLY by debut young adult author Sharon Biggs Waller? It’s cover has the one big gaping issue that makes me so wary of historical books – incorrect period attire, or just anachronisms in general. It’s so hard to get a period correct, at least in my eyes. That giant, poofy anachronous yellow dress on the cover was screaming, “Megan, don’t read this book! It’ll be all wrong! Look at this ugly yellow polyester gown!”

Thank the heavens I did not listen to my instinct about the cover, because this book is simply amazing, beautiful, powerful, and unique in a sea of dystopian and whiny contemporary novels. It’s dystopian of a historical sort, and while the main character does whine, this book made me fall in love with historical novels for the first time in a very, very long time.

Following Vicky, a young artist exiled from her French finishing school for posing nude in her art class (secretly attending with the help of her best friend until discovered by a jealous classmate), we are thrown into a world where women are expected to be mothers and wives and not their own person, where scandal follows you for life, where your worth is determined based on your marriage prospects, and where being outside the box will get you sent away to the darkest parts of England. This is really how things used to be for young women a hundred years ago, mind you. And with Vicky, we are able to see how one girl wakes up from the cloud of being upper middle class and raised with everything she could hope for except freedom and how she bursts forth and realizes that money cannot buy you happiness like freedom can.

It’s hard to believe that in 1909, posing nude for an art class of respectful men would risk your entire future. It’s hard to believe that your family would disown you for wanting to draw and go to college. Waller navigates this world with graceful prose and tension that by the end left me visibly nervous, shaking where I sat and timid to turn the page and see what happened as Vicky fell further down the rabbit hole of suffragettes, drawing nude policemen, entanglements with a fiance forced upon her as a business arrangement, and above all, applying for art school against the supreme will of her father.

“This is why we all fight so hard. Not just for the vote, but for an equal opportunity in the world. A vote is a voice. I think you underestimate yourself, Queenie. This is your fight, same as it is mine.”

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

This book is feminism for beginners, dropping us into a world where that word is as much a curse word as fuck is today. Going into this you have to put yourself back in time and remember the past before women can vote, before marriage for love was true and universal in the west. And Waller has done amazingly thorough research that puts you right into the time period and refuses to let you go until you’ve read the last page and left you desperate for more.

Thank you, Ms. Waller, for making me a fan once more of historical fiction, and I hope more people find this book and love it as much as I did. Truly wonderful.

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