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Highlights in the Charts

Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen by Alix Kates Shulman

Reviewed by Arabella Peets 


Originally published in 1972, Alix Kates Shulman’s Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen was a ground-breaking novel from the day it hit the shelves.


Set in the 1950s and 60s in a patriarchal USA society, this work of fiction follows Sasha, a girl growing up in the Midwest, and her coming-of-age experiences with sexual harassment, marital rape, abortion, and bullying. Throughout the book, Sasha realises that she is fated to have a different life from boys; a realisation that for young girls is still true today.


Often considered to be one of the first important novels to emerge from the women’s liberation movement, this book had a huge impact on society, in large part due to it depicting female experiences that had rarely been evoked in fiction before, let alone by a woman. Exploring these kinds of topics was rare, so bringing these into the hands of a mainstream fiction reading audience and to the best-seller list was revolutionary.


Although this is more than fifty years old, Sasha’s experiences still resonate with young women today, and unfortunately, will continue to for many years to come. In over half a century, nothing has really changed for women. It was originally written to raise consciousness and make people understand that women were oppressed. In 2024, we don’t need convincing of that, but it still heavily resonates with female readers, and it now makes people even more determined to make a difference in society. 


Amidst modern-day gender challenges and activism, this is a great book to read to understand the challenges that women have historically faced and how we can keep working to change this. Even so many years on, this is still widely considered to be one of the best feminist novels of all time, and it would not be surprising if it continues to pop back up on best-seller lists every so often for years to come.


Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes 

Reviewed by Jenna Tomlinson 


Mythology, folklore, legends, and stories are globally known, and almost everyone can share a story, whether it’s from their own culture or another. But how often do we consider that all the myths and legends we consume and share are told with a patriarchal slant? And as a result, how often do we share stories of women making mistakes, causing disasters or being labelled as witches or monsters to fit those narratives? Well, Natalie Haynes has been lifting the lid on that through both fiction and non-fiction. 


Stone Blind tells the origin story of Medusa and asks the question: was she simply a monster with vehement anger? Or did her outward appearance and one man’s desperate need for a saga to solve his problems make us believe she was this monster? In other words, did we make Medusa a monster because it fit the narrative better?


Growing up, the other simplified versions of these stories had held men to heroic statuses. As I got older, I recognised more and more that women were presented either incredibly simplistically (think of Aphrodite, whose only regularly quoted quality is her beauty, making her appear vapid), connivingly destructive (the sirens leading sailors to their deaths with their beauty) or as haggard and monstrous (the Graeae, with their shared tooth and eye). I wanted to know about these background characters who appeared only to give men either a reason to go to war or a conquest to defeat. 


Haynes does this beautifully in Stone Blind. Her tender descriptions of Medusa and her Gorgon sisters, who care so meticulously for each other and share a beautiful bond, really give context to Medusa’s origins. This also contrasts so well with her depictions of Perseus: haphazard, somewhat whiny and reliant on help from his immortal father, Zeus, yet crazed with power once he realises that he has it. 


I saw Haynes speak at the Manchester Literature Festival last year, and she was captivating. Quick, sharp and with a barrage of facts and knowledge that hit like a thunderbolt, I couldn’t help but remember why I loved history so much. Haynes renewed the marvel and fascination I once had, and I was so taken aback. 


I love mythology, and in particular, Greek mythology, and Haynes weaves the stories of the other Olympians effortlessly within this book, showing how closely linked and intertwined these stories and characters are. Anyone who has read one of Haynes’ books or heard her speak knows that her intelligence is matched only by her humour and wit, and it is this that makes her books so consumable. It shows the Olympians in a completely believable and human light. 


Stone Blind is great for anyone who enjoys mythology, retellings or looking at well-known stories from a different point of view.

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