Release Date: January 23, 2014
Publisher: Viking Juvenile (Penguin)
Age Group: Young Adult
Source: ARC provided by publisher in exchange for honest review (and a blog tour!)
Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.
After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life.
As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?
Tell Me More: There is nothing like reading the first page of a book and realizing that the story might be everything you want it to be and more. From Vicky’s very first admission–“I never set out to pose nude. I didn’t, honestly.”–to the spark of her interest in the suffragette movement, A Mad, Wicked Folly gave me a heroine that I could respect and cheer for the entire story.
Vicky is a vibrant and stubborn heroine, who did not lose my interest once through the entire book. Posing nude for her art class wasn’t something she did to be brave or to impress anyone. It was a choice that came naturally to her because she valued equality, and she saw herself as capable of doing anything that her male colleagues could do. This decision set the tone for the entire novel, and establishes Vicky as a character who trusts herself. Of course, that trust is tested many times, and while I didn’t expect her to be perfectly confident all the time, I was impressed by the sheer will and determination she displayed. Doubting yourself sometimes is normal, and Vicky learns to take those moments as they are, and move on.
Those moments come into play when she encounters the ladies of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Sharon Biggs Waller’s extensive research is obvious from the first mention of the WSPU, but readers won’t feel overwhelmed by the information. Waller writes her exposition with a light hand, letting the reader gradually learn about the movement the way Vicky does, in much the same way girls of the 2000s are learning about feminism. She meets women like Christabel Pankhurst and Lucy, who share many of her personality traits, and who are fighting for what they believe in. She grows to see and understand the question that burns in all of them: if a man can do it, why not I?
Vicky’s desire to go to art school, and her father’s rejection of it, is a familiar tale to many of us who pursue our passions–I went from dreaming of medical school to realizing that I wanted to write, and that writing is what makes me happiest. On a personal level, I lived some of Vicky’s frustrations, and her thoughts were ones I had and still have sometimes. Women have taken steps forward in the quest for equality, but there is still a reluctance to talk about the things we want, and our belief that we deserve those things. Vicky experiences that first-hand, and even she shies away from fighting back for the life she wants throughout the book. As I neared the end, I was afraid that in an attempt to give her a happy ending, Waller would rush a reconciliation or try to wrap everything up without being fair to Vicky’s development. I shouldn’t have worried–the story isn’t about Vicky getting a happy ending wrapped up in a nice little ribbon. It’s about her journey, and the realization that she deserves more than what her family or society deems her worthy of.
The Final Say: A Mad, Wicked Folly succeeds in its portrayal of a girl stuck between a set future and everything else the world is offering, and choosing to believe in her own potential no matter what happens.
Sharon Biggs Waller grew up around artists and developed a passion for Edwardian history and the Pre-Raphaelites when she moved to England in 2000. She did extensive research on the British suffragettes for her novel, A Mad, Wicked Folly, when she wasn’t working as a riding instructor at the Royal Mews in Buckingham Palace and as a freelance magazine writer. She also writes non-fiction books about horses under her maiden name, Sharon Biggs. She is a dressage rider and trainer and lives on a 10-acre sustainable farm in Northwest Indiana with her British husband, Mark.