cover image Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories

Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories

Kelly Barnhill. Algonquin, $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-61620-797-7

The eight short stories and one novella in Newbery Medalist Barnhill’s collection are haunting and beautifully told. Each tale features characters, mostly girls and women, who chafe at rules and rebel in ways both quiet and extraordinary. The titular widow of “Mrs. Sorenson and the Sasquatch” dismays her neighbors by taking up with a huge furry humanoid. In “Elegy to Gabrielle—Patron Saint of Healers, Whores, and Righteous Thieves,” the young pirate Gabrielle Belain frees slaves and is defiant to the end. The poignant novella “The Unlicensed Magician” tells the story of a young woman, known as the Sparrow, as she quietly brings prosperity to her small town despite her country’s murderous dictator. Barnhill skillfully incorporates fairy tale elements and makes them freshly unsettling: many of her heroines have unusual effects on animals, and the title character of “Notes on the Untimely Death of Ronia Drake” faintly echoes Cinderella’s dead mother. Each story is written in intensely poetic language that can exult or disturb, sometimes within the same sentence, and evokes a dreamlike, enchanted mood that lingers in the reader’s mind. These tales are made to be reread and savored. (Feb.)