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Sawkill Girls: a Wild Feminist YA Thriller

Sawkill Girls YA mystery novel

On a small island off the East Coast, adolescent girls have been occasionally going missing, their disappearances never solved, for generations. Locals say they’ve been snatched up by the Collector, a monster who lives in the woods. It’s just a legend though. Monsters aren’t real. As the disappearances escalate and become more frequent, three girls on Sawkill are determined to stop them at any cost. The Sawkill Girls are bold, united, and pissed off.

In Sawkill Girls, Claire Legrand has written an allegory for rape culture and male domination of women individually and as a class. This would be the perfect novel for the teenager in your life. And there’s a fair amount of SAT words, too.

Overall, the symbolism is apt. Young feminists will applaud the central conceit, and especially the message of cooperation, even with women you don’t like. However, in some ways, knots go unpicked for the reader, dots go unconnected, so if you are not already versed in the concepts of male violence, old boys’ clubs, even compulsory heterosexuality, some of the characterization and dialogue that sets up this allegory may be moot.

In perhaps her most daring hat-trick, one of the main characters plays the role of the patriarchal handmaiden. She is a queen among other girls, but a servant to her master. She assists and facilitates violence against other girls, even though she knows better. Showing the queen bee/handmaiden as a victim in her own way could steer dangerously close to apologism, but Legrand proves it’s worth it.

Legrand created a racially diverse cast of characters without exhaustive white virtue signaling or tokenization of racial, ethnic, or sexual identities. If you’re looking for entertainment, not education, don’t let the slightly off-kilter allegory stand in your way. The book is genuinely scary and I found it hard to put down.

There’s also age-appropriate descriptions of sex and sexuality that I wish I’d had when I was a teenage lesbian. Sometimes the body demands affection and attention even in the midst of trauma and terror, and that’s definitely a cathartic message for girls in this generation.

Author Claire Legrand – Photo credit Ellen B. Wright

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