Caroline Norton and Her Fight for Women’s Justice
Antonia Fraser’s captivating biography of Caroline Norton follows her fight against inequality, which led to nineteenth-century legal reforms.
Born in 1808, Norton was the granddaughter of author and politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Bright and beautiful, she and her sisters were described as “bewitching” and “innocently wicked.” Following her marriage, Norton hosted a salon at her London home.
Norton’s husband, George, was a member of Parliament who encouraged his wife to use her looks, wit, and intelligence to advance his career. However, he was soon angered by her objections to his abusive behavior, as well as by her close friendship with Prime Minister Lord Melbourne. Norton sued Melbourne for adultery, seeking considerable monetary compensation.
George Norton’s case dragged his wife into a hellish imbroglio. Like all British women of the time, she had minimal legal rights. Her identity was reduced to the mere label of an adulteress, and her personal life became public fodder. Though her husband’s suit was unsuccessful, he maintained custody of their children, controlled her finances, denied her a divorce, and appropriated her reputable published works.
With engrossing detail, The Case of the Married Woman recounts actual scandals, romances, tragedies, and triumphs. Few fictional heroines could rival Caroline Norton’s shrewd defiance: she used her charm and writing talent to lobby for British women in matters of divorce, property, and child custody. Her forthright nature was tested by the slowness of social reform, but she learned to accept gradual progress, noting “We are all ants moving our grains of sand [and] by little and little the roadway will be seen.” Indeed, her work led to the passage of England’s 1839 Infant Custody Act, empowering fellow mothers.
A historical delight, The Case of the Married Woman is the biography of a tenacious woman who refused to accept injustice, indifference, and anonymity.
MEG NOLA (April 27, 2022)
A Queer Compendium
In From Gay to Z, a compendium of queer culture more akin to a kiki than an encyclopedia, Justin Elizabeth Sayre serves up a blend of earnest information and loving snark.
A humorist rather than a historian or social scientist, Sayre believes “culture is made up of people, so in some ways this is a who’s who of the LGBTQ+.” Arranged in alphabetical order, the inclusions are varied and cover people, places, media, and cultural objects and trends, as well as significant eras and historical moments. Because the focus is on “art created by and for gay people,” queer-coded media and straight icons, like Dolly Parton and Beyonce, also make the list. Although Sayre discards the idea that this compendium is a complete listing, it’s weighty enough to resist a single sitting read.
Largely focused on US queer culture of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the book includes of-the-moment references, as with a biography on cult queer comedian River Butcher, as well as textbook queer history, as with entries on the Stonewall Riots and coverage of important technologies like YouTube, which created important new spaces for queer people. There are also surprises, especially in the recovery of historical figures whose queerness is often officially overlooked, as in the case of Jane Addams—the first woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, the cofounder of the ACLU, and the lover of Ellen Starr.
From Gay to Z can hold its own, whether as a cultural primer for a baby queer or as a library resource. The perfect resource to dip in and out of, From Gay to Z’s entries are enlightening and entertaining, celebrating the “core of queer culture…how a group of people maligned and mistreated come together and try to make the world more beautiful, more fair, and perhaps more loving.”
LETITIA MONTGOMERY-RODGERS (April 27, 2022)
A young man experiences a crisis of faith and stirrings of love in the graphic novel Jacob’s Apartment.
Jacob and Sarah are California roommates with contrasting lifestyles and worldviews: Sarah is an atheist with a history of undesirable boyfriends, while Jacob is the product of staunch Christian parents, just beginning to question his religion in the face of his father’s illness. Jacob and Sarah realize their romantic feelings for each other, but she moves to New York to pursue a job and her ex-lover. She tells Jacob she feels like she would only “spoil his goodness.” Still, he follows her across the country, leading to a memorable, emotional reunion.
Jacob’s explorations of his doubts about God are honest and affecting. Though the characters discuss complex feelings and problems, the book relies most on visual storytelling, with silent panels showing simple movements that hint at deeper meanings. Dream sequences and symbolism also contribute to the story’s rich characterizations: Sarah dreams of swimming to the bottom of a water-filled tank containing a treasure chest, while Jacob’s emotional state is indicated in part by a stuffed dinosaur and a bee buzzing amid the panels of the book.
Jacob and Sarah’s decisions are authentic, and the detailed art complements the writing, resulting in additional realism. Jacob’s Apartment is an excellent graphic novel that utilizes the unique possibilities of the medium to portray deep emotions in dramatic style.
PETER DABBENE (April 27, 2022)
Sinkhole’s murder mystery takes place in the swampy hinterlands of Florida, with emphasis on teenage trauma and buried secrets brought to light.
In June of 2001, Michelle, a native of the backwater Lorida, comes home for the first time in fifteen years. She’s been drawn by a family medical emergency. As she motors down from Georgia, her travels are peppered with flashbacks to her youth, as well as to her friendships with rebellious, troubled Sissy, who took it upon herself to be Michelle’s best friend, and with Morrison, a sensitive outcast who connected to Michelle thanks to their mutual love of literature. At a gradual pace, it becomes clear that a mysterious death drove Michelle away from her hometown—but the victim and the perpetrator remain elusive.
While there are clever twists to the book’s mystery, it’s centered more by its cast and its vibrant settings. Descriptive verve is applied to sweaty, run-down swamps and trailer parks, as well as to hidden places of beauty. The cast’s psychological shifts are handled in a deft manner, too: Michelle comes to reckon with her past jealousies and angst, even as she recalls high school days with nostalgia.
Here, the 1980s are awash with pop culture excitement over New Wave bands and blockbuster movies. And Michelle thrills in making new friends. Numerous vignettes from the time are enlivened with keen details, and wry humor is applied to how Michelle’s mother earns a living as an obituary writer. Touching passages show the teenage trio interacting with people at a local gay club.
More than just a murder mystery, Sinkhole is a bracing tale about redemption, coming to terms with the past, and finding the strength to move forward.
HO LIN (April 27, 2022)
Zorro dice mentiras
Watercolors and colored pencils come together in illustrations reminiscent of folk art in this story about getting caught in your own web of lies. Trying to look cool in front of his friends, Fox tells everyone that he knows Superturtle. This single lie turns into many more, and Fox’s deception ultimately puts a friend in danger. Available in English and Spanish editions, this picture book provides a valuable lesson on white lies and the importance of trust among friends.
DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (April 27, 2022)