Book Review: Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, and Other Female Villians

This past year, I’ve really been getting into graphic novels. It’s something I never read before I worked in the library, but the more I explore the category the more I enjoy it. I’m not super-into middle grade fiction, but I’ve really enjoyed a few GNs for this age range and hope to discover more.

bad girls

I pretty much loved Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, and other Female Villains by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Rebecca Guay. The short biographies of all sorts of female “villains” are spunky and fun, and just enough to tempt a reader to want to know more about the wily women. Each 5 page profile is accompanied by a portrait and a one page comic that features the mother-daughter author team discussing the female villain and offering dual perspectives. Was she framed or portrayed unfairly negatively, or is she as “bad” as history makes her out to be? It’s left for the reader to decide.

The book profiles two dozen women, from Catherine the Great and Cleopatra to lesser known figures like Molly Cutpurse. The dry, comical tone of the writing was a hit with me, and I loved how the approach doesn’t talk down to young readers. The writing is entertaining, and Rebecca Guay’s artwork is gorgeous.

What strikes me as most valuable about this book is that is actively prompts the reader to consider the relative “guilt” or “innocence” of these women. When I was growing up, history was presented very much as fact. It wasn’t until I was in my late high school and early college classes that I began to realize that history is very much open to interpretation. I really appreciate that this concept is being introduced at a much younger age. I hope this would encourage young women to question the narratives that other will construct for them and prompt them to reflect on their own “guilt” or “innocence” rather then being defined by others.

Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, and other Female Villains was published February 1st 2013 by Charlesbridge Publishing and I borrowed it from my public library.

Second opinions:

Publisher’s Weekly: “If the authors’ banter hasn’t prompted readers to question the badness of these bad girls, the conclusion directly solicits the consideration: ‘Would we still consider these women bad? Or would we consider them victims of bad circumstances?’”

Wanted Readers: “If you know someone who is interested in women’s history then this may be a cute, quick read for them. I would suggest it to a middle school aged kid (particularly girls) to maybe help pique an interest in history.”


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