This is a beautiful collection of eight short stories and one novella by Kelly Barnhill. And you will very quickly learn that their writing is lush, lyrical, and absolutely haunting. But sometimes the speculative fiction felt a little too speculative for my personal tastes. But if you like lyrical prose and speculative writing? You will love this collection.
I’m going to break down each short story with my thoughts, opinions, and individual star rating!
➽ Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch – ★★★
Never did I ever think I would read a story about a Sasquatch wearing a fedora, but here we are. But this was a wonderful story about what it means to be happy and how everyone has a different idea of what happiness is. And how some people will live their entire lives living other’s happiness and never their own. After the death of Mrs. Sorensen’s husband, she is in search of the happiness she was ignoring while she was married. And even though her husband was a good man, he wasn’t the right man for her and she was never able to accomplish her dreams. And now she has a chance to live her life for herself and her own happiness, regardless of what a judgmental town of people think. And this entire story is told from the point of view of the town’s priest, who is also questioning his life and his happiness.
➽ Open the Door and the Light Pours Through – ★★★★
Wow, this impacted me super hard at the end. At first, I wasn’t so sure I was going to enjoy this one, and then it turned into something so very beautiful. This story is about a solider questioning his sexuality while he is writing letters to his wife back home. This story also heavily showcases grief and trauma. But this book also heavily talks about how love is genderless, and it was able to evoke so many beautiful emotions from me.
➽ The Dead Boy’s Last Poem – ★★★
This one was so very beautiful, but it was also so very short. And because it was so short, I feel like it didn’t pack the punch I really needed to connect with it. But it is a love letter to artists everywhere, that you will always live on through the art you create. Again, super beautiful, I just had a really hard time connecting.
➽ Dreadful Young Ladies – ★★
This hurts my heart to say this, but this was probably my least favorite in the collection, even though it is the title story. These are four quick tales about “dreadful” young ladies, and what gives them that title. Maybe this just went over my head? Maybe there is some really gorgeous metaphor that I completely missed?
➽ The Taxidermist’s Other Wife – ★★
I didn’t love this one either, sadly. I did like the creepy aesthetic! I mean, this is a story about a Taxidermist who is very questionable, but something just made it so that I never connected.
➽ Elegy to Gabrielle—Patron Saint of Healers, Whores, and Righteous Thieves – ★★★★★
This was beyond words beautiful. Seeing these two women, everything they went through, everything they were forced through. Seeing the father, only get the pieces that he was given. Seeing that a woman can be everything, absolutely everything, but still have people try to make them feel like nothing. I felt like I was in this village, or on this ship, and experiencing the magic. This was so beautifully told, expertly crafted, and completely immerseful.
➽ Notes on the Untimely Death of Ronia Drake – ★★★★
This was so intelligently crafted in little glimpses that make up such a larger story. I know I said this above, but I felt like maybe this was a little too speculative for my personal tastes, and maybe I missed a few key tie ins, but I still loved the adventure of this story coming together. But, for me, this story was about being a woman, being a mother, being a daughter, being lonely, being free, and what each of these things mean in retrospect to the others. I think this was expertly crafted.
➽ The Insect and the Astronomer: A Love Story – ★★★
Don’t get me wrong, I’m here for all queer love stories, even between insects, but this one just really didn’t work for me. I just feel like this one was too over the top. I really loved the footnotes, because that’s just something I always personally love in books, but the story itself felt a little too thick for me to read through. I kept finding myself skimming and having to reread passages. But I do believe we all have wings.
➽ The Unlicensed Magician – ★★★★★
This won the World Fantasy Award for long fiction in 2016, and it was so deserving. I loved this with every bone in my body. This reads like a dystopian fantasy, where in this world every quarter century magical children are born and the Minister’s people collect them and take them to the Tower where they will work until they die. And we follow Sparrow, who died before the collection. Or did she? This story switches perspective from past and present constantly, and it just makes it an even more haunting and powerful piece that expertly comes together in the end. And seeing this magical girl grow, is something I don’t even have words for. This novella completely made the collection for me.
I gave Dreadful Young Ladies 4 stars overall, because out of a possible 45 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 9 stories) this collection accumulated 31 stars (~69%). But if you love speculative fiction, and some of the most beautiful prose you will ever read, I completely recommend this collection with my whole heart.
Buddy read with Kaycee! ❤