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Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories Paperback – March 12, 2019
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—O, The Oprah Magazine
“Kelly Barnhill won the prestigious Newbery Medal last year for her children's story The Girl Who Drank The Moon. Her new book Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories is just as fantastical but delves into darker, more complicated worlds for adult readers.”
—Lulu Garcia-Navarro for NPR
“Finds the author at her most poignant and surprising.”
“The eight short stories and one novella in Newbery Medalist Barnhill’s collection are haunting and beautifully told . . . Each story is written in intensely poetic language that can exult or disturb, sometimes within the same sentence, and evokes a dreamlike, enchanted mood that lingers in the reader’s mind. These tales are made to be reread and savored.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Barnhill’s exquisite prose leads readers down many fantastical roads . . . the themes of love, grief, power, and hope tie the individual stories together in a masterly way . . . Barnhill highlights fantasy’s breadth with unusual settings and extraordinary characters living outside of the realm of reality. A magical volume for fans of the genre.”
—Library Journal, starred review
“Exquisite . . . Perfect for readers of the weird and fantastically wonderful. Give to fans of Alice Hoffman, Laura Ruby, and Seanan McGuire.”
—School Library Journal
"Newbery medalist Barnhill dazzles in her short story collection for adults . . . This is a well-crafted short story collection featuring elements of magic realism while touching on the themes of love, grief, hope, jealousy, and more. Fantasy readers—especially fans of Neil Gaiman or even Kelly Link—will appreciate this spellbinding collection."
"Reminiscent of Ray Bradbury or Angela Carter . . . Whether Barnhill's settings are contemporary, historical, or dystopian, she mixes the feeling of fairy tales with the psychological preoccupations of literary fiction."
“The fabulous, the speculative and the surreal make up the stories in Barnhill’s marvelous collection, Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories . . . but it’s Barnhill’s sly humor and her poetic prowess with imagery and metaphor that enchanted me most of all.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“These eight fantastical, magical stories and a novella are filled with images of flying and wings, on humans, ghosts and insects . . . These are compelling, sometimes baffling, always interesting stories in which people disappear, babies are born and taken by the government, and girls and women are bold and sometimes frightening. There’s a very blurry line between the ‘real’ and the imagined.”
—St. Paul Pioneer Press
“[Barnhill] shows us things that are not real, but are nevertheless true; things that we know to be important even though they may not exist. To put it another way, she writes fairy tales. Fairy tales written in lush, insistent, dreamlike prose. Yarns that the Grimm brothers never dreamed. Some of her stories are written to be read by children, but all of her stories are for adults. Kelly Barnhill is astonishingly good at this.”
—Pete Hautman for Electric Literature
“A breathtaking collection of tales that traverse the intersection of reality and fantasy, all the while reminding us of the very values that make us human.”
“Kelly Barnhill follows up her Newbery Medal-winning The Girl Who Drank the Moon in a most unexpected fashion: with a collection of fantastical short stories for older teens and adults. Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories is the kind of writing that does not rely on shock and awe, but rather on fascinating characters doing unusual things in evocative settings. It is certain to broaden Barnhill’s fan base and should draw favorable comparisons to Neil Gaiman with ease. Prepare for a wholly unique reading experience with this collection, one to be savored with each luscious page.”
“Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories is entertainingly subversive and often questions normative culture . . . Barnhill's work pushes beyond the confines of the fantasy genre and makes the reader want to believe that magic is part of our lives. Indeed the themes in this collection of short stories develop basic human responses such as love, death, and jealousy. But each story unfolds a darker and supernatural element to these emotions. Readers will easily identify with these characters and become engrossed in the mysteries of the supernatural.”
“[A] fierce new collection for adults . . . magical tales of characters seeking their own paths even though society would rather they meet certain expectations. These characters are unexpected and fresh: Readers will meet a woman who loves a Sasquatch, a guilt-stricken witch, and an invisible girl.”
About the Author
Kelly Barnhill lives in Minnesota with her husband and three children. She is the author of four novels, most recently The Girl Who Drank the Moon, winner of the 2017 John Newbery Medal. She is also the winner of the World Fantasy Award and has been a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award, a Nebula Award, and the PEN/USA literary prize. Visit her online at kellybarnhill.com or on Twitter: @kellybarnhill.
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I'm going to break down each short story with my thoughts, opinions, and individual star rating!
➽ Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch - ★★★
Never did I ever think I would read a story about a Sasquatch wearing a fedora, but here we are. But this was a wonderful story about what it means to be happy and how everyone has a different idea of what happiness is. And how some people will live their entire lives living other’s happiness and never their own. After the death of Mrs. Sorensen’s husband, she is in search of the happiness she was ignoring while she was married. And even though her husband was a good man, he wasn’t the right man for her and she was never able to accomplish her dreams. And now she has a chance to live her life for herself and her own happiness, regardless of what a judgmental town of people think. And this entire story is told from the point of view of the town’s priest, who is also questioning his life and his happiness.
➽ Open the Door and the Light Pours Through - ★★★★
Wow, this impacted me super hard at the end. At first, I wasn’t so sure I was going to enjoy this one, and then it turned into something so very beautiful. This story is about a solider questioning his sexuality while he is writing letters to his wife back home. This story also heavily showcases grief and trauma. But this book also heavily talks about how love is genderless, and it was able to evoke so many beautiful emotions from me.
➽ The Dead Boy’s Last Poem - ★★★
This one was so very beautiful, but it was also so very short. And because it was so short, I feel like it didn’t pack the punch I really needed to connect with it. But it is a love letter to artists everywhere, that you will always live on through the art you create. Again, super beautiful, I just had a really hard time connecting.
➽ Dreadful Young Ladies - ★★
This hurts my heart to say this, but this was probably my least favorite in the collection, even though it is the title story. These are four quick tales about “dreadful” young ladies, and what gives them that title. Maybe this just went over my head? Maybe there is some really gorgeous metaphor that I completely missed?
➽ The Taxidermist’s Other Wife - ★★
I didn’t love this one either, sadly. I did like the creepy aesthetic! I mean, this is a story about a Taxidermist who is very questionable, but something just made it so that I never connected.
➽ Elegy to Gabrielle—Patron Saint of Healers, Whores, and Righteous Thieves - ★★★★★
This was beyond words beautiful. Seeing these two women, everything they went through, everything they were forced through. Seeing the father, only get the pieces that he was given. Seeing that a woman can be everything, absolutely everything, but still have people try to make them feel like nothing. I felt like I was in this village, or on this ship, and experiencing the magic. This was so beautifully told, expertly crafted, and completely immerseful.
➽ Notes on the Untimely Death of Ronia Drake - ★★★★
This was so intelligently crafted in little glimpses that make up such a larger story. I know I said this above, but I felt like maybe this was a little too speculative for my personal tastes, and maybe I missed a few key tie ins, but I still loved the adventure of this story coming together. But, for me, this story was about being a woman, being a mother, being a daughter, being lonely, being free, and what each of these things mean in retrospect to the others. I think this was expertly crafted.
➽ The Insect and the Astronomer: A Love Story - ★★★
Don’t get me wrong, I’m here for all queer love stories, even between insects, but this one just really didn’t work for me. I just feel like this one was too over the top. I really loved the footnotes, because that’s just something I always personally love in books, but the story itself felt a little too thick for me to read through. I kept finding myself skimming and having to reread passages. But I do believe we all have wings.
➽ The Unlicensed Magician - ★★★★★
This won the World Fantasy Award for long fiction in 2016, and it was so deserving. I loved this with every bone in my body. This reads like a dystopian fantasy, where in this world every quarter century magical children are born and the Minister’s people collect them and take them to the Tower where they will work until they die. And we follow Sparrow, who died before the collection. Or did she? This story switches perspective from past and present constantly, and it just makes it an even more haunting and powerful piece that expertly comes together in the end. And seeing this magical girl grow, is something I don’t even have words for. This novella completely made the collection for me.
I gave Dreadful Young Ladies 4 stars overall, because out of a possible 45 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 9 stories) this collection accumulated 31 stars (~69%). But if you love speculative fiction, and some of the most beautiful prose you will ever read, I completely recommend this collection with my whole heart.
The paranormal mingles with stories of grief, ghosts made of scraps of poems and spirits lingering in windows both playing with the idea of those who are gone lingering in the afterlife. Death and how people deal with losing people close to them are consistent themes, though the presence of death often throws the beauty of life into contrast. The elements of fantasy do not intrude on the humanity of each story, and the humanity explored is not always good. The story that lends its name to the book itself is actually separate stories within itself, each young lady revealing herself to be a certain kind of monster, whether that description be figurative or literal. Despite the title of the book focusing on tales of the dark thoughts a of malcontent babysitter with bad intentions for her lover’s child or a pythonesque woman swallowing a man whole, Barnhill counters these characters with benevolent, daring people risking their lives for the good of all.
The longest of these tales, “The Unlicensed Magician” utilizes beautifully crafted prose to explore a world where magic is bestowed upon humanity by a comet and stolen by a greedy man known only as the Minister. Making magical children work for him in a selfish effort to pluck the comet from the sky, this Minister created a dystopia in which he had the absolute monopoly on magic. The exception is the protagonist, a young girl whose magic weaves miracles into the bleak lives of her neighbors. The girl fights back against him, motivated only by her love for all those she knows of--including the Minister himself. Skipping drawn out discussions of lore, Barnhill illustrates this world deftly, letting the scenes slowly reveal the things that are impossible in the world we live in, sans magic comet.
In a whirlwind of tales spanning so many different human experiences, there is a certain whimsy to Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories. Barnhill manages this despite dealing with dark and at times morbid characters. Not all of the young ladies are dreadful in this collection of enchanting stories, and while all the tales stand on their own, they are well grouped in this beautifully written book.