The 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People act in 1918 prompted a number of really good historical novels (Sally Nicholls’ Things a Bright Girl Can Do for example, Star by Star by Sheena Wilkinson), now here’s another one. Letty Pegg’s mother is an active member of the Women’s Social and Political Union, or as Letty prefers to call them, Whizzpoo. Her father, a policeman, is decidedly less enthusiastic, particularly when their activism puts his wife in danger, and Letty’s grandmother is vehemently opposed. Letty finds herself quite literally caught in the middle when she follows her mother to a demonstration, and witnesses the suffragettes suffering beatings and brutality at the hands of the police (not her father). Yanked from the melee, she makes friends with her rescuer who then enrols Letty in special Jiu Jitsu classes for women: yes, some suffragettes learned Jiu jitsu and used it to defend themselves and their leaders against the police. That’s probably the single most fascinating piece of historical information in the book – it was certainly news to me – but readers are given a very wide-ranging view of the suffragettes’ struggle generally, as well as insight into what life was like for women at the time, both the working and upper classes.
This is Lawrence’s debut children’s book; for her day jobs she’s a stand-up comic, historian and radio presenter. She puts all to good use here to tell a rollicking good story full of moments of humour and excitement, while also creating a vivid sense of the early 1900s. Letty and her friends and rivals are great characters, as are the real life people she comes across at different times in her adventures. Thoroughly recommended.