Book Review – Brazen by Pénélope Bagieu

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Full Title: Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World
Genre: Biography
Publication Date: March 6th, 2018
Publisher: First Second

There is no more straightforward way to put it – this graphic novel is phenomenal. If you need a boost of vitality and determination in such trying times as these, look no further than Brazen. This book makes you reflect on yourself and say, I could do this too. The obstacles suddenly don’t seem so insurmountable anymore, at least for awhile.

Though if I did learn one important fact in this collection, it’s that most artistic and scientific fields historically have been overseen by, well… bigots and incompetents, and even with the efforts of these wonderful women and others, are still very much in dire need of an overhaul in their bureaucracy and ways they practice. Most, if not all of these women, even those alive in more recent years, have had to struggle for recognition because of these institutions and their staunch attitudes that they can do no wrong. If we hope to make any positive change to this little gloom-ball we live on, sometimes the system has to be challenged.

Bagieu tells the shortened but fascinating legacy of thirty important women, both influential and underappreciated, in all their determination, wit and triumph, giving each of their stories their own unique colour scheme. Not only is Brazen a visually beautiful and charming book, but it never feels anything less than passionate and heartfelt on the artist’s part, and is one of the most inspiring collections I’ve read.

What surprised me is that I actually knew most of these women. I’m very familiar with Tove Jansson, Nellie Bly, Josephine Baker, but I didn’t know the sheer extent of their accomplishments. That’s something a simple search won’t really elaborate on. Some of these women were practically the nucleus of their field, it being nonexistent or a hopeless train wreck before they came along. I was disappointed Maya Angelou didn’t make the final list, though Bagieu credits her in the acknowledgements. Angelou has had a massive influence on the development of my own writing, but I suppose she couldn’t include everyone, or the book would end up wrist-snappingly monstrous to lug around.

I hate to admit this, but I am immediately skeptical of feminist books aimed at young adults. In my experience, one in fifty goes beyond a cynical, condensed cash-grab full of calendar quotes and touching only the barest surface petals of its feminist roots. But, I’ll still always be willing to try the ones that seem genuine on the off-chance of finding one I can recommend to others in good conscience. Brazen not only seems genuine and does its subjects justice, but it’s also engaging as a graphic novel. Bagieu has a good-natured sense of humor and her modernist art style is adorable.

While I think it would be a fantastic idea to introduce children to these figures, and was on the verge of recommending it for younger readers, but it does deal with some adult themes they might not “get” yet, that would be difficult to explain, such as abortion, so I would definitely label it young adult, though anyone who can should read it. Absolutely read it if any facet of this interests you, whether it be history, women’s rights, or you just like comics – you will not regret it.

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