March 11, 2013
In Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves & Other Female Villains, Yolen collaborates with her daughter Heidi and illustrator Rebecca Guay in chronicling the stories of 26 notorious women in history and legend, from the famous—like Cleopatra, Anne Boleyn, and the actual Biblical Jezebel—to the less well known, like the fascinating female pirates Anne Bonney and Mary Read (whose tales no doubt inspired those Bloody Jack books I can't get enough of).
The book's format alternates between brief prose write-ups of each infamous lady—accompanied with an imaginative full-color, full-page illustration of each—and a page or two of comic panels with a sort of linking meta-narrative of Jane and Heidi discussing and debating each woman's guilt or innocence, each one's potential mitigating circumstances in the eyes of history. It's an interesting structural choice, one which I believe is designed to try to pull in readers of a variety of ages. The font size for the prose sections is rather large and the writing style clear and unadorned—these segments seem like they're meant to appeal to younger readers who might be reading the book with parents, while the comic panels bring in a more mature viewpoint that I see as more middle-grade or older.
Each figure is presented in a way that shows there is more than one side to every story, even when it's history, and it gets the reader thinking that it just might be possible some were victims of circumstance. Other women, meanwhile, might have been making the best of a bad situation, or might have suffered a bad rap for seizing control of their own lives during historical periods that didn't look kindly on women doing such things. Others, of course, might have been just plain bad. In that respect, the book gets you thinking about what it really means to be a "bad girl." It's an entertaining introduction to women's voices in history, as well as a fun way of exploring our cultural fascination with outlaws and hoydens.
Recommended for Fans Of...: Richly visual interpretations of history, myth, and legend, like the various Olympian graphic novels by George O'Connor (Zeus reviewed here), or Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood (reviewed here).
Review Copy Source: Publicist (Raab Associates).
You can find Bad Girls by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple online, or at an independent bookstore near you!