– Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
I love my library’s YA nonfiction section. Where else would I find books about female villains from throughout the ages?!
Bad Girls, subtitled Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, and Other Female Villains was a quick, intriguing read – it took me no more than an hour to finish its not-quite-two-hundred pages. My thoughts about it can be found below, so read on!
The book is made up of a bunch of short biographies (complete with illustrations) about the following women:
- Anne Boleyn
- Bloody Mary
- Elisabeth Báthory
- Moll Cutpurse
- Anne Bonney and Mary Read
- Peggy Shippen Arnold
- Catherine the Great
- Rose O’Neal Greenhow
- Belle Starr
- Calamity Jane
- Lizzie Borden
- Madame Alexe Popova
- Pearl Hart
- Typhoid Mary
- Mata Hari
- Ma Barker
- Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner
- Bonnie Parker
- Virginia Hill
A pretty diverse list, no? The featured villainesses were from ALL OVER THE WORLD. The first half (or so) of Bad Girls DOES focus more on European/African/Asian women and the second half features a lot of female gangsters/bank robbers/et cetera from America, but overall this adds up to a bunch of women from lots of different countries. And I loved this. I hate when books claim to cover “the world history of _____” and then talk mostly about the USA, with a smattering of other countries discussed here and there.
However, I think that might also be the reason for the book’s only shortcoming (in my opinion)! It seemed like the authors wrote about so many women that they ran out of room! Sure, some of the bad girls’ bios were six or eight pages long, but some got only two! It left me going, “Whoa, what?! Isn’t there more to her story?”
Bad Girls examines whether these women really were bad. I love books that make me think. And this one definitely did! After reading it, I came to the conclusion that:
- Some of these women were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- Some of these women lived so long ago that what we “know” about their deeds may be little more than fairy tales.
- Some of these women helped as many people as they hurt.
- Sometimes we ignore that that in a few cases, the “evidence” against these women is inconclusive at best.
- Some of these women did not choose to go into crime – they were coerced into it by their parents and/or spouse(s).
- Some of these women – very few, really – were truly evil.
And oh, how evil those few were! They really made up for the not-quite-so-bad deeds of the other women! Let’s just say that if you’re ever in need of a good creepy tale for telling around the campfire late at night, google Elisabeth Báthory. I would have adored this book when I was a wee Engie because there’s a little bit of gore, a little bit of women kicking butt, and a whole lot of history. I was a weird child, OK?
Speaking of weirdness, I share my name with not one but two of these women! I’m not even sure why I’m telling you this, except that I am an odd little history nerd. Just a few days ago, the Notebook Sisters posted about how it feels to find a fictional character with the same name as you. Well, that hasn’t actually happened very often to me. So what are the odds that two of the undoubtedly evil women share my name? We need to start setting a better example!
I really enjoyed Bad Girls and honestly, I think most people would. What’s not to like about a wonderfully illustrated book that tells thrilling tales of adventure, mischief, and maldoing? It’s easily one of my favorite nonfiction reads thus far this year. Try it!