By Michael Elsohn Ross. Chicago Review Press, 2015. 192 pages. $19.95/hardcover; $15.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 12 and up.
As the title announces, She Takes a Stand features short biographies about 16 activist women and the causes for which they fought. I appreciate that the selection includes women from different countries and continents, from the nineteenth century through to young women today. Among the famous names are some lesser known activists from history and the present. Also, there are a few examples of different types of voices: women who use music, art, and writing to change the world as well as those who use marches, strikes, and civil disobedience. Sometimes the author mentions mistakes the women made in addition to their triumphs, making the stories feel honest and real, rather than like one-dimensional hero worship. The message comes across clearly that all kinds of women and even girls can be activists in all different ways, no matter what injustices they see around them.
An excellent resource, this book could well be a place to get inspired to find out more about some of the featured women and their causes, but I do have some reservations about its use in explicitly Quaker settings. This is not a Quaker book. The stories of activism are not all entirely nonviolent, and although the women’s various moral and religious backgrounds are mentioned, they aren’t necessarily a focus. It might be possible to use these stories to spark discussion about different types of activism. It’s likely to raise the question of when, if ever, violence is justified. The stories are certainly consistent with many of the causes and testimonies Quakers embrace, but in order for the book to be used in First-day school, teens would need to be explicitly guided into considering the relationship between the featured women’s actions and the Quaker idea of letting our lives testify to the ways the Inner Light guides us to treat one another.
The publisher lists this book as being for ages 12 and up, and I definitely agree that it is not an appropriate book for younger children. The troubles the women face are described clearly, with background information and definitions that discuss issues including lynching, back-alley abortions, force-feeding of hunger strikers, torture, child soldiers, and other horrors. Sensitive children may well find themselves as troubled by these tragedies as they are uplifted and inspired by attempts to eliminate them. Therefore, while I admire the author’s openness and honesty in presenting these women and their struggles, this may not be a book to put into the hands of children, particularly younger teens, without being prepared to read and discuss it with them. While I appreciate the book’s value as a resource and starting place, it is not a book that teaches distinctly Quaker activism on its own without further perspective from mentoring Friends.