Reviewed by Jody Uy
THE RESTLESS GIRLS
By Jessie Burton, illustrated by Angela Barrett
160 pages. Bloomsbury Children’s Books.
Every typical little girl’s dream is to be swept off into Happily Ever After—to have a flurry of animals to get you through the worst of times or a handsome prince to save you from the forces of evil. Like a lot of other girls, I grew up watching Disney princess movies. Cinderella was my absolute favorite, and I always secretly hoped I’d have a fairytale ending too.
While there exists a plethora of Once Upon A Time type of stories peppered with flowers, singing, and magic out there, we’re now at a day and age that’s much more critical about sugary sweet stories of love and triumph. Thankfully, Jessie Burton’s The Restless Girls isn’t your typical damsel-in-distress story. Burton reimagines an old fairytale that revolves around the mystery of the worn and tattered shoes of 12 princesses. Despite not being allowed to leave their room at night, these sisters somehow manage to go through their well-crafted shoes as if they were made of tissue (much to the dismay of the royal shoemaker). Baffled by this, the king enlists the aid of all the males in the kingdom to solve the mystery, promising the hand of any one of his daughters to whoever unravels their secret.
Burton knows just how unfair the age-old classics are to women. We’re all familiar with the singing girls, the pretty ones with animal friends, and the elegantly dancing princesses who wait in high towers to be swept off their feet. In her version of the fairytale, we’re introduced to princesses of a different kind. While the 12 princesses may seem like the stereotypical ones at first glance, they actually represent a wider range of women immersed in different fields and interests that go beyond just sitting pretty and waiting for the magic to happen. Each of these 12 girls is smart and skilled in particular areas like writing, astronomy, math, music, and even animal medicine to name a few. Burton refuses to paint a portrait of girls who simply sit pretty in beautiful gowns, but instead boldly inks a story of princesses who are as talented and dynamic as the various women we know today.
Apart from presenting princesses who are passionate, Burton also subtly touches on other topics in a skillful and show-not-tell manner. The king, who represents the antagonist in the book, for example, isn’t your typical “evil” villain. His actions have clear motivations, and while not everything he does is forgivable, he isn’t written off to die at the end. As we know, evil and good aren’t always taken as black and white in real life, which the book is able to present to young readers too. Burton also shows how dangerous the magical and easy escapes can be; while they are fun, they are also fleeting. She shows us that freedom and reaching our goals isn’t accomplished by a simple flick of the wrist and the wave of a magic wand, but something we need to really buckle down and strive toward.
For the young girls who’ll be reading this book, they’re in for a tale that’s just as magical as the Disney classics, but one that also goes even further by empowering and emboldening them to do more than just sit around for their happy ending. Burton pushes girls to think, thrash, dance, explore, fly planes, and ultimately, forge their own Happily Ever After.
The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton will be available soon at Fully Booked. To reserve a copy in advance, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jody is currently an undergraduate student taking up Education and is discovering everyday the greatest bits about reading and learning that fuel our thinking. When she’s not drowning in readings for class, she drowns herself in music, books, and the wonders of the Internet. You can find her on Instagram @ohfishness.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]