Friday, April 10, 2015

Review: A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller
Series: N/A
Published: January 23rd, 2014
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
448 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Young adult historic fiction
Acquired this book: From the library
Warning: May contain spoilers
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Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.
After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?
I have mixed feelings about A Mad, Wicked Folly. I wanted to read it from the moment I saw the lovely cover and found out when and where it was set. Then a lot of my reader and blogger friends started raving about it, so by the time I finally got my hands on it, I was both nervous and excited. I expected to love it since I adore historic fiction and I haven’t read many books set during suffrage, but…well…I struggled to get through it. It didn’t grab me until toward the end, which meant it was easy to set it aside after a chapter or two, and it took me a total of four weeks to read. It felt way too long and drawn out, and that made it hard for me to get invested.

I had trouble connecting to Vicky a lot of the time. Through most of the book she’s selfish, defiant, and motivated only when it suits her purposes. I’m all for flawed characters; flaws are what usually make me connect to a character because it makes them seem real, but in the case of Vicky, her flaws made me cringe more often than not. I get that she was a teenager and teens can be impulsive, but the thing is, this was the early 20th century and she came from a wealthy family - she would have been supervised almost every waking moment of the day. She wouldn’t have been able to go gallivanting all over London, painting nudes and working with the suffragettes and kissing boys who weren’t her fiancĂ©. She wasn’t a true suffragette (at least for most of the book); she wanted to draw them to add to her portfolio, and she wanted to help them in order to get a letter of reference. She wasn’t willing to put in any more work than that. She wasn’t willing to get in trouble with the suffragettes, but she was willing to get into other trouble on her own - trouble that caused problems for her family and could lead to her father’s ruin. She experienced firsthand the unjust way women were treated, but because she’d had everything handed to her her entire life, she couldn’t see past that, even when she said she thought women should have equal rights.

With all that being said, I did appreciate her growth toward the end, and finally started connecting to her when she stopped being so selfish. She finally really saw what life was like for a lot of women, and she wanted to help - truly help, and not just for her own selfish reasons. And even when she was irritating me, I have to admit I admired her tenacity and conviction, and her belief in her art. I loved that she was passionate about art and would pursue it at any cost. She had so many obstacles in her way, and she could have easily slipped into a life of luxury and leisure like so many of her counterparts, but she didn’t. She wanted more and she was determined to have it. Her motives and actions were sometimes questionable, but that’s not my issue - as I said, I admired her tenacity, I just found some of the situations hard to believe because of the time period in history. Upper class girls like Vicky would have been chaperoned, especially before their coming out to society, and especially if they’d caused such scandal as Vicky did at the beginning of the book.

Things I did like: the setting. It was interesting seeing early 20th century London, and seeing the actual suffragettes in action. I loved Will. He was so strong and passionate, sweet and smart. His interactions with Vicky were some of my favourite parts of the book. There were some other great side characters, too. I particularly liked Vicky’s brother, Freddy, as well as Lucy and Sophie, a couple of the other unlikely friends she made along the way. Each of these characters helped Vicky’s growth in some way and taught her something.

I hate to admit I was disappointed by A Mad, Wicked Folly. It took almost 3/4 of the book for me to finally get invested, and I had quite a few issues throughout. There were some good parts - the setting, the side characters, and Vicky’s eventual growth. I liked the writing and Vicky had a strong, authentic voice. The majority of the people I know who have read this book love it and rave about it, so if you’re a fan of historic fiction, I’d say this one is worth a shot. 

“If I’m not drawing every day, then I don’t feel alive; do you know what I mean? And I’m not very good in social settings—I don’t quite say the right things or act the right way—but with my art I can express myself through what I see and feel. It helps me understand how I fit into the world, which is something that has quite escaped me since I was a little girl.” ~ Page 257, A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

Have you read A Mad, Wicked Folly? What did you think? If you haven't read them, do you plan to? Do you like historic fiction? Have you read any books about the suffragettes? Let's talk here or on Twitter!


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