Upright Women is about a young adult, Esther, who fled from home and hid in the wagon of a group of librarians. Esther’s father is a high-ranking government official and he has arranged a marriage for Ester which she does not want. To make matters worse, the man her father chose was previously the betrothed of her best friend. Her best friend had been hanged for possessing non-approved materials and Esther and her best friend had been in love. In the beginning of the book Esther believes that misfortune will follow her everywhere due to her wrong thoughts and desires. She falls in with the librarians in a coming of age adventure.
If you have read some of my other reviews then you know that I give lots of points for creativity and imagination. Upright Women scores big in this area. The situation is very slowly revealed. It is a western that takes place in the future. People ride horses and use wagons because there is no fuel. All of the fuel and apparently most of the tech are given over to the army to fight some kind of long running civil war. There are separate rebel (or “resistance” depending on your point of view) areas. Men rule and women are to be pleasantly subservient. Non-heterosexuals are definitely not allowed and information is carefully controlled. In fact, it is the job of the librarians to distribute approved materials and the group Esther has fallen in with operate an old-west version of a book-mobile, or wagon-mobile. Esther learns that the librarians in real life may not be who everyone thinks they are as they are covertly carrying packages for the resistance and running an underground railroad to help people escape who are being oppressed due to their sexual orientation. This is an exceptionally creative dystopian story with huge potential, so why only 3.5 stars?
In the very beginning of the book Esther came off as being 12 or 13 years old and super naive. I listened to the audio version of the story and perhaps the reader’s tone gave me that impression. However, even though she had never ridden a horse before, on her second day when the group is attacked by armed horsemen, Esther rides among them in confusing patterns to distract them and then grabs the leader’s horse so that someone else can shoot him. This seemed unlikely to me. Esther is troubled about her part in the killing, but it is revealed that she lived in a city and saw poverty, hardship etc all around her. So which was it, she was protected and naive or had been exposed to the hard realities? Ester had been in love with her best friend and her father made her watch the hanging … and the first day she joins the librarians she falls for someone new. This didn’t seem realistic either. These disconnects aside, there was very little information about the world in which the story takes place. This very imaginative scenario seemed underdeveloped. This left me wishing for more information and thinking that an opportunity had been missed. Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey is under 200 pages, a 3 hour audio. Perhaps that contributed to the character focus and skimming over the setting.