Historical Fiction Anthology A Tyranny of Petticoats Tells Girl-Powered American Stories

A Tyranny of PetticoatsIf America is a melting pot, then A Tyranny of Petticoats just may be the most American piece of YA you’ll pick up all year. With 15 stories by 15 different authors, this collection, edited by contributor Jessica Spotswood, manages to capture slices of U.S. history through the eyes of its bold, complicated, unruly, and daring young women.

From a pirate’s life in British North America to civil disobedience in 1960s Chicago, the assembled all-star team of authors—Marissa Meyer! Beth Revis! Marie Lu!—manages to find a distinct voice for every era, with no two girls the same. Y.S. Lee’s spunky Garrett Girls, proprietors of a turn-of-the-century Alaska saloon, are as different as could be from Madeleine, a free black girl in 1826 New Orleans, but they’re equally complimentary.

How so? The thread that ties every story together is that each girl is her own. As well-to-do Helen vows in Revis’s “Pearls,” after she’s taken advantage of by a lover and summarily dismissed by her father, “I am done with men owning me.” She boards the nearest train and heads out to the wild blue yonder to start again in Wyoming.

Just like Helen, each of these 15 young women must fight against the constraints of their times and their circumstances to choose their own destinies. For some, it’s more straightforward than others. For none is it simple, whether they’re fighting off murderers or marriage schemes.

Not for Tony, whose dream of becoming an aviatrix is dogged not only by her gender, but by the color of her skin in Elizabeth Wein’s “The Color of the Sky.” Not for Lizzie, who has to suss out a Confederate spy while fending off plans for her future from her overbearing grandmother in “The Red Raven Ball,” by Caroline Richmond. And certainly not for Evie, coming to terms with her sexuality in WWII-era Los Angeles in “City of Angels,” by Lindsay Smith.

Yet, all of them persevere in their own way and reach their own distinct conclusion—admittedly, some are slightly more pleasant than others. As unique as their voices are the myriad genre styles Tyranny plays with. Many of the stories are tried-and-true historical fiction—and many are based on real characters (Annie Oakley, for one)—but there are other flavors at work, including fantasy takes. Leslye Walton’s offering, “El Destinos,” for example, is a standout that transplants the Three Fates of mythology into the bodies of three Mexican American sisters in the sparse beauty of post-annexation Texas.

No two stories are alike. No two characters either. No two settings for that matter, as these stories crisscross the continent. But if you’re looking for role models for young women, you’re bound to find something here to like. These girls are alternately rebellious, sweet, clever, and demure. A great many of them have figured out more in their short lifetimes than women twice their age, including Saundra Mitchell’s young Depression-era Robin Hood, who wisely observes about the infamous Barrow Gang, “It seemed to me that they’d have been a lot less likely to get gunned down if Bonnie had just had the sense to be Clyde.”

It sounds real simple when you put it like that, but making these girls’ journeys seem effortless isn’t the point or the outcome of A Tyranny of Petticoats. Without being anachronistic or cloying, this collection shows history has been filled with unruly, outstanding, striving, and thriving women. Their struggles are unique in their challenges, but their great epiphanies are shared. As Evie comes to realize at the end of “City of Angels,” as the lights dim on wartime Hollywood, “I was no one’s responsibility. I was my own woman, for good and bad.”

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