When Women Were Dragons

Doubleday. May 2022. 352p. ISBN 9780385548229. $28. FANTASY
Barnhill’s (The Witch’s Boy) adult debut is a feminist historical fantasy tackling self-discovery, queer identity, and dysfunctional family. On April 25, 1955, hundreds of thousands of women transformed into rampaging dragons and left charred corpses, destroyed buildings, and broken homes in their wake. That day, Alex Green lost her cherished Aunt Marla, and ever since, her parents have refused to acknowledge the loss of Marla or the addition of a new baby, who’s related to Alex by blood but not by parentage. Alex’s crush on schoolmate Sonia and concern about her precocious sister’s fixation on dragons are further complicated by her father’s growing aloofness, her mother’s restrictive smothering, and a world that insists the Mass Dragoning never happened. Facing loss, heartbreak, and fury, Alex wonders: will the fire that burns inside her give her wings? Or cost her those she loves most? Barnhill’s sharp and lyrical prose showcases the joys and agonies of female power in this coming-of-age/alternate history.
VERDICT Readers will be moved, discomforted, and inspired by Alex’s introspective voice and experiences.
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