Things A Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls

Published by Andersen Press

THE impact of the First World War, culturally, politically and personally for many, is outlined in countless classrooms to teenagers today.

For young people interested in history, it can be inspiring and further enlightening to engage both with historical texts and with well-written and researched fiction. Sally Nicholls manages to bring 1914 England to life with skill, honesty and creativity.

In the time leading up to the war, three teenage girls from vastly different backgrounds are becoming aware of the fight for suffrage gaining traction within the political mainstream.

The eldest of the three Evelyn, at 17, is lost as despite having grown up wealthy, she longs to follow in the footsteps of her brother and be educated at Oxford. Instead, she is pushed toward the path of marriage to a childhood sweetheart.

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It is on this precipice of adulthood that she is forced to confront the converging roads in front of her, where the path she desires is closed off.

The other two girls are both 15, yet on the surface seem to have very little else in common. May has also grown up middle class and has a fierce and supportive mother who has educated her in the pursuit of women’s rights, even encouraging her to join in.

However, the two are pacifists and therefore follow the movement of the Suffragists, the nonviolent movement often placed in opposition with the militant Suffragettes.

Nell, however, has not been brought up with a gentle and intellectual approach to gaining what is necessary and instead is drawn toward the Suffragettes.

When the two girls meet, it becomes clear that their differences do not negate an instant attraction and connection between them.

In following the lives of the three girls as war is fast approaching and their respective involvements in the suffrage movement, the reader is made aware of how uniquely intertwined their personal lives are to their political ones.

For Evelyn, love is not the only goal and she must pursue the road her indignation at a lack of the opportunity for education has taken her.

And as May and Nell develop a relationship, there is both an optimism and a painful understanding that their first love goes against the beliefs of the higher powers they are fighting.

Part of what works so well about this novel, is its ability to create unique stories for each of the three and emphasise the differences in the women fighting for suffrage of the time.

Class tension between women was present, and is handled with care in the case of Nell and her personal experiences of struggle and poverty facing the classism within the movement she has entered with her well-meaning middle-class love, May.

The differences between Evelyn, Nell and May reveal the necessary and prevalent issue of intersectional feminism and how it has always been vital to strive for.