“All women are magic. Literally all of us. It’s in our nature. It’s best you learn that now.”
Sometimes a cover image is enough to reel me in. Sometimes I only need to read the blurb to know for sure that a book is destined to become a favourite. Sometimes, just sometimes, I’ll only make it to the third page before I buy the ebook so I can highlight passages to my heart’s content. This is that book.
Marya Tilman’s transformation on 18 September 1898 was the “earliest scientifically confirmed case of spontaneous dragoning within the United States” but there were records of dragoning occurring centuries prior. You might believe that it was all over after the Mass Dragoning of 1955 but you’d be wrong. So very wrong.
For those whose feet remained firmly on the ground on 25 April 1955, life went on. People still went to work. Children still went to school. It was business as usual. But this new normal came at a cost.
Dragoning is unmentionable. Don’t talk about what happened.
Forget those who dragoned. They never existed in the first place.
Keep your eyes on the ground. You don’t want any dangerous ideas.
Perhaps this is how we learn silence – an absence of words, an absence of context, a hole in the universe where the truth should be.
This is Alex’s memoir (of sorts). Alex saw her first dragon when she was four. She was still a child when the Mass Dragoning happened. Through her eyes, we not only see how the Mass Dragoning changed society as a whole but also how it impacted upon Alex’s own family.
Through dragoning, this book explores trauma and the silencing that often takes place in its aftermath. It’s about how women diminish themselves to fit into the shape that society prescribes and the toxicity of secrets. It’s the power of women taking up space and refusing to be gaslit anymore.
When I started this book I thought it was going to be about an alternate 1950’s, one where women got pissed off with the patriarchy and turned into dragons. And it is. Sort of. But it’s so much more. There’s rage in this book but there’s also joy.
It is joy that burns me now, and joy that makes my back ache for wings, and it is joy that makes me long to be more than myself.
I fell in love with auntie Marla and Beatrice. I met the best librarian ever. I felt rage and helplessness alongside determination and hope and love. I ugly cried. Oh, did I ugly cry.
I felt a kinship with the characters who dragoned and a fire inside that I fully expected to result in my own dragoning. I love this book so much!
“Today’s the day!”
Content warnings include mention of alcoholism, death of animals, domestic abuse, racism and sexual assault.
Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
In a world where girls and women are taught to be quiet, the dragons inside them are about to be set free …
In this timely and timeless speculative novel, set in 1950’s America, Kelly Barnhill exposes a world that wants to keep girls and women small – and examines what happens when they rise up.
Alex Green is four years old when she first sees a dragon. In her next-door neighbour’s garden, in the spot where the old lady usually sits, is a huge dragon, an astonished expression on its face before it opens its wings and soars away across the rooftops.
And Alex doesn’t see the little old lady after that. No one mentions her. It’s as if she’s never existed.
Then Alex’s mother disappears, and reappears a week later, one quiet Tuesday, with no explanation whatsoever as to where she has been. But she is a ghostly shadow of her former self, and with scars across her body – wide, deep burns, as though she had been attacked by a monster who breathed fire.
Alex, growing from young girl to fiercely independent teenager, is desperate for answers, but doesn’t get any.
Whether anyone likes it or not, the Mass Dragoning is coming. And nothing will be the same after that. Everything is about to change, forever.
And when it does, this, too, will be unmentionable…