4 out of 4 stars
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Mistress Suffragette by Diana Forbes is a memoir-style historical fiction novel. The story follows Penelope Stanton, a young woman who struggles with the pressure to marry well to help support her family. The Panic of 1893 has taken its toll on the Stanton family’s business and threatens the privileged lifestyle that Penelope’s family has thus far enjoyed.
Hoping to find eligible husbands for her daughters, Mrs. Stanton brings Penelope and Lydia to a ball. Penelope attracts the attention of the handsome and wealthy Mr. Daggers, who inappropriately kisses Penelope. After the ball, Mr. and Mrs. Daggers offer Penelope a position to work for them in New York. Too ashamed to admit Mr. Daggers’ actions and unable to convince her parents to let her stay in Newport, Penelope moves to Boston and stumbles into helping with the women’s rights movement.
I enjoyed reading this book. The writing style was easy to follow, and some readers may be able to finish the book in one or two sittings. Additionally, I did not have any trouble discerning when a particular character was speaking or when there was a change in setting. The details of 19th century Boston, New York, and Newport are captivating, and it is apparent that the author heavily researched the historical events she depicts in the story.
The characters in the story are well-written and realistic. Many readers will be able to relate to Penelope Stanton’s internal conflicts; she seeks independence and purpose while trying to appease societal expectations and maintain her femininity. Additionally, Penelope is attracted to Mr. Daggers but has a difficult time interpreting his actions. As the story progresses, Penelope grows more confident, and she uses her intelligence and resourcefulness to help her family. The villainous Mr. Daggers is also incredibly represented, as he uses classic manipulation techniques to prey upon naïve teenage girls like Penelope. This villain is so realistic because nearly all readers can recall an example of someone who uses the same kinds of emotional manipulation, violence, or power imbalance to take advantage of helpless people.
I give this book 4 out of 4 stars. This story flows naturally and contains plenty of exciting plot development. The characters are realistic, and their relationships with each other are relatable. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and coming of age stories. Additionally, I recommend this book to young women and anyone looking for inspiration to find their own voice. However, I would not recommend this book to anyone looking for a traditional romance novel. While the title suggests that this book may be a romance, the sexual scenes in the story serve more as social commentary rather than as an indulgence.
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