Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2
As a girl and as a staunch feminist and lover of female accomplishments throughout the ages, I love stories about kickass girls. I also like pretty pictures and well-researched historical writing. If you’re like me and love these things too, you’re going to love Jason Porath’s new Rejected Princess book, Tough Mothers: Amazing Stories of History’s Mightiest Matriarchs. Filled to the brim with fifty stories of badass women who got shit done on their own terms, beautifully illustrated and thoroughly researched and cited, this book is a feat. The book features women who were mothers, literally and figuratively, and centers on this idea of the fierce maternal instinct. You need this book in your life because you need the stories of these women, and Jason’s funny, thoughtful writing and carefully, gorgeously rendered art in your life.
I’m a huge fan of Porath’s first Rejected Princess book, Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics and if you want to know why, check out my review of it. I’m also a huge fan of the online project, which features lots of free, awesome content about girls just as badass in the books as well as bonus content and other goodies!
But you should buy both of the books. Seriously. Before I even begin to tell you in detail why these books mean so much to me, add the book on Goodreads. Buy it from Barnes and Noble, Amazon or your local independent bookstore (you all should know that this is the way to go). Strapped for cash? Go and reserve it from your library.
All set? Got your future hands on a copy of this book. Cool. Let me tell you why it’s so fantastic now.
Rejected Princesses, in its online and book iterations, is something I desperately wish I had as a teen girl and even as a kid. Even coming of age in the aughts and teens of the new millennium, I was constantly told by the adults in my life to be “more ladylike” and to “act like a girl.” I was not thrilled with this. I loved Disney movies, especially Disney Princesses growing up. I’m not going to bore you with the details, but basically I dressed up as a Disney Princess every Halloween and had Disney Princess backpacks, shirts, etc. It was bad. And it was especially bad because they were badass in their own ways, but they weren’t…revolutionary to say the least.
The women–young, old and everywhere in between–that Jason writes about in Rejected Princesses aren’t just revolutionary. They’re also real. These are the ladies you should have learned about in history. They come from all over the world. All across time. Reading Jason’s work isn’t just enjoyable and entertaining. It’s downright educational too. I promise you, you will learn so much from this book and it is so worth the wild ride of reading every single story.
I also have to talk about the design of this book, and where do I even start. The cover is beautiful, to begin with. I love the deep, royal blue they chose. It gets even better when you open up the front cover. I loved the inclusion of a map that shows where all fifty of the women are from, and it shows that Jason really picked women from all over the world. My only point of critique is that I wish more South American, African and Southeast Asian women were included, since the map reveals that, while included, these areas are more sparse of inclusion than say, the United States and Europe.
I also love the system of content warnings. It makes it easy for readers to avoid potential triggers or topics they just rather not read at that moment. The ordering by level of maturity and clear indication with color coded and labeled warnings make this SO easy and it is so seamless in the design (these are also included in the online project).
Moreover, the page design of the stories is pure perfection. I loved the inclusion of all the little illustrations in the watermarked frame on each page. This just goes to show the level of detail Jason put into the design of his own book and how seriously he takes this project, its style and its atmosphere. Pushing this level of detail even further, the corners have a fun surprise. Flip the pages to generate a fun little animation. It’s fun and addictive, and so darn cool.
As an art historian and visual culture nerd, the illustrations are my favorite part of the book. They’re colorful. They’re dynamic. And they’re super detailed. Reading the art notes at the end of each vignette and getting to see the thought, the time and detail that Jason put into his images is one of my favorite parts of the project.
This brings me to another aspect of the text that I love: the writing style. The vignettes about each woman is fun and fresh to read. It’s written in an accessible way that people will get, with a touch of humor and ample amounts of empathy. We need more men like Jason in the world, not just as authors but as people. He puts in the time and the work to highlight these historical women. He listens to his readers. You can tell from reading about the project and from one or two entries that he deeply cares about the work that he’s doing, and that in turn makes the experience of it and the joy of reading his vignettes all the better. I am so grateful that these books, this project, exists. I hope you are–or soon will be–too.