What’s a girl to do to escape the box created for the women of the 1910’s? Well, Kitty Weeks has decided to be a journalist…or at least what passes for a female journalist in the early 20th century.
Radha Vatsal delivers the second in the Kitty Weeks series, which focuses on a young woman living in New York on the eve of Word War I. Daughter of a former American diplomat father and a mother she lost early in life, Kitty is trying to find her way in the world and she has decided that being a journalist is the way to make her mark on the world. Oh, and she occasionally solves a mystery, much to her father’s chagrin.
Although I didn’t read the first book, the second book didn’t leave me feeling like I’d missed anything crucial and I was still able to enjoy the story in this book. Here’s a quick story recap.
Kitty is on her most recent assignment for the New York Sentinel’s Ladies Page at a private all-girls school, when she meets an extraordinary scientist who also happens to be a female student. So intrigued by the bright mind of Elspeth Bright (how’s that for on-the-nose naming), Kitty asks to interview the young woman when they’re in New York for Christmas break. After only one short meeting, Kitty learns Elspeth has been found dead in Central Park one cold night. Elspeth’s parents and the police chock it up to her somnambulist habits. Kitty, though, isn’t as convinced and begins probing the death of the young girl. Along the way, we learn about Thomas Edison’s efforts to help the US Navy with war looming, the fight of women to earn the right to vote and even get to hear from President Woodrow Wilson.
I want to start with the wonderful use of the word “somnambulist” in this book. My first encounter with this word was an episode of Angel. I had a vague notion of what that meant, but this book drove it home in a delightful way. Just a fun note.
The early 20th century was a frenetic time, with politics, science and all aspects of human life progressing as a crazy pace. Vatsal captures all these aspects with this installment of Kitty’s story. From the science of batteries being developed to help the US Navy run their submarines without killing seaman to the pedestrians of New York trying to figure out how to safely share the roads with the newfangled automobiles, Kitty’s story shows us the amazing developments and the huge dangers present everyday.
Kitty’s story also showed the limits on a woman’s world in 1914. It serves as an important part of the story, but also a backdrop to the events. Vatsal does a wonderful job of weaving into the novel the limits on women in an authentic way. Kitty may be working as a journalist, but it’s within the limits her father and her editor place on her. There is no choosing whatever story she wants. She is prevented from entering the male reporter’s work space. And her father only allows her to work part-time. Kitty even battles internally with the limits she believes she has as a woman and what she believes she’s capable of. Wait until you read the passages when Kitty visits the doctor about conditions plaguing the female. *eye roll*
The same can be said for the victim of Vatsal’s story. A gifted scientific mind doesn’t help Elspeth to be taken serious by her scientist father. We don’t get to know her well, but through Kitty’s investigation she reveals just how talented Elspeth was.
The limitations placed on these girls is integral to the pace and plotting of the book, but we also get a peek into the world of the suffragists and their fight for the vote. With the federal government refusing to address women’s right to vote and calling a state issue, the women are working to reach the heart of the president, Woodrow Wilson. Vatsal proves to have a great grasp of the time period and all the nuances. She even includes Wilson addressing the women upon his visit to New York.
In the end, Vatsal has an intriguing mystery wrapped in the rumbling national and international politics that threaten the US involvement in a coming war. I have a feeling Kitty and her world are about to get much darker.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.