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  • Margaret

Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls

Everyone who works in The Alligator's Mouth is a feminist (non-feminists are not allowed cake), but if we weren't already committed to the struggle for women's equality, this book would certainly convert us.

It's early 1914. Evelyn is 17 and desperate to go to university, but her parents won't countenance it ('Darling! Whatever for?') Enraged, Evelyn throws her lot in with the suffragettes, and their fight for the right to the vote becomes a vehicle for all her thwarted ambition. Joining the struggle are Nell, who finds in the movement an escape from her impoverished East End background; and May, whose drawing-room socialism is tested by turbulent political realities.

I've always been an admirer of Sally Nicholls' writing, and I think this is the book of her career so far. There is a vivid sense of this extraordinary period in our history, and Nicholls does not flinch from the brutalities of violent protest, hunger strikes and the First World War. The characters are so warm, real and beautifully drawn that we never lose sight of the humanity of these girls. Evelyn, May and Nell must deal with love, loss and injustice in a time of huge uncertainty; all three are eventually forced to ask themselves what they are prepared to sacrifice for this cause.

This book is a powerful tribute to women who changed the world, and whose courage and sacrifice we should never take for granted. It's important, humane and even funny. Read it and be grateful. And then vote.

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