As someone who works in a library, Upright Women Wanted was a must read for me. Sarah Gailey’s latest novella doesn’t focus on hippos (like River of Teeth) but rather on queer librarians surviving in a dystopian future.
Like the Pack Horse Library Project of old, the librarians travel across what is left of America distributing “Approved Materials” to folks in scattered towns. Upright Women Wanted’s main character, Esther, joins up with these librarians after tragedy strikes, and she’s faced with either marrying the man her abusive father picked for her or hiding away in the back of the librarians’ wagon.
Not surprisingly, she chooses the wagon.
By running away, Esther hopes to leave behind the trouble and misery she feels destined for, but by joining the librarians, she finds that her destiny might not be as tragic as she believed.
If the idea of badass, queer librarians appeals to you, Upright Women Wanted will not disappoint. There are gunfights, assassins, and trips into dangerous towns. The story, however, is about more than just tough librarians with horses and guns in an Old West-like future. Sarah Gailey’s novella is a tale of hope for queer people who feel alone and lost, and Upright Women Wanted succeeds on that as well.
Not offensive to women = 1/1 pt
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2/2 pts
Besides the character of Cye (who is non-binary), all of the main characters in Upright Women Wanted are women.
Passes the Bechdel test = 3/3 pts
The novella easily passes the Bechdel Test. Other than Esther’s memories of her father, men barely factor into the plot and the conversations reflect that. The novella also has excellent LGBTQ+ representation (every major character in the story is queer), and some POC representation (one character in the novel is definitely a POC and a second character might be as well). This is a novella with a strong focus on women and queer characters. Male characters are tertiary at best.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4/4 pts
Sarah Gailey packs a lot into a novella. Upright Women Wanted features strong and complicated characters, an action-packed plot, and a bit of romance. Beyond that, Upright Women Wanted is just a blast to read. It’s funny, sweet, and occasionally, a bit of an emotional roller coaster. You’ll quickly become invested in the lives of Esther, Cye, Leda, Bet, and Amity and just want for them to be happy. The novella also introduces a world that has plenty of potential. The dystopian future might be bleak with its constant war and fascism, but Sarah Gailey manages to infuse hope into the story through the librarians and their resistance network.
While the ending is absolutely satisfying, I am hoping there will be a sequel to Upright Women Wanted. Between the characters and the setting, there is so much more to be explored.
Above and Beyond General Media = 5/5 pts
From the novella’s dedication onward, you can feel that Sarah Gailey’s story is one with purpose. At the beginning of Upright Women Wanted, Esther is hopeless. She watched the woman she loves die in front of her and feels like she’s forever doomed to a life of tragedy and loneliness. Throughout the novella, however, Esther will see that happiness is an option for someone like her. Librarians Bet and Leda are obviously happily in love with each other. Cye lives their life authentically as non-binary when they can. The librarians even rescue two women in a relationship (presumably a happy one, although we only ever see it from a distance). Oddly, however, it’s brusque Amity’s friendship and advice that truly encourages Esther to think about a future where she isn’t destined to be alone. This all leads to the story being one of hope–which can still be an anomaly when it comes to queer stories.
Sarah Gailey truly goes above and beyond in Upright Women Wanted, creating a story of filled with complicated queer librarians who might just live happily ever after after all. I highly recommend checking it out.
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