Things A Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls (Andersen Press, 7.99)

This enthralling book for teenagers follows the plight of three teenage girls through 1914 and the war years.

Evelyn is from an affluent background but has to fight against society’s narrow expectations imposed on schoolgirls of the time, Mary is a Quaker who dares to speak her mind, particularly against the war, and the male-dressing Nell is from the bottom rung of society, her family under constant fear of the workhouse.

All three lives intertwine with the burgeoning Suffragette movement as they find themselves questioning how far you would go for a cause you believe in.

Real pioneers of the Suffragette movement feature too throughout this well-researched book.

There are some powerful subjects explored here: sexual identity, bullying, the class system, abject poverty, force feeding of Suffragette prisoners, plus the Great War itself and its effects on those who fought and those who stay at home. The plight of women left behind is particularly poignant. All is done with sensitivity and clarity however, and with an eye for a good story.

At the heart of this satisfyingly thick book are three strong, unique female teenagers striving to find their place in a turbulent and changing world. The modern reader will have no trouble identifying with and rooting for all three of them. And lines like “Father’s study was off-limits to the children, except in times of high drama” make this a joy to read, and not just for those readers with most of their lives ahead of them!

The exciting news is that Sally Nicholls will be appearing at the York Literature Festival on Thursday 28 March (6pm) at The Mount School.

Tim Curtis