cover image Ironhead, or, Once a Young Lady

Ironhead, or, Once a Young Lady

Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem, trans. from the Dutch by Kristen Gehrman. Levine Querido, $18.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-64614-048-0

In 1808 Ghent, Constance “Stance” Hoste, 18, proves stubborn and unruly, much to the chagrin of her parents and pious brother Pier, 14. After being forced to marry much older Lieven, who in return promises to pay her inventor father’s debts, Stance disguises herself as a man and takes an acquaintance’s place in Napoleon’s army. When Lieven sends Pier to find her, the siblings embark on separate paths of adventure and self-discovery that slowly intertwine. Told in Stance’s and Pier’s alternating viewpoints, van Rijckeghem’s (A Sword in Her Hand) action-packed latest is rich with detail. Often crudely humorous, it also straightforwardly and respectfully portrays Stance’s experiences, including physical and sexual abuse and senseless violence, alongside Pier’s arc toward confidence. In a narrative that eschews modern gender terminology, the protagonist’s fluid identity is impressively nuanced: Stance, who is attracted to women, both identifies as a woman and is most comfortable presenting male, experiencing both gender dysphoria and euphoria. Rowdy and contemplative in turn, this celebration of historical gender nonconformity is as compelling as it is fun. Characters cue as white. Ages 12–up. (Feb.)