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Book Notes: A Suffragist's Guide to the Antarctic

My reading in the first quarter of this year has had an inadvertent theme of suffragists and polar exploration. I haven’t gone out searching for them; these books keep finding me. Which was made all the more obvious when I picked up Yi Shun Lai’s YA historical, A Suffragist’s Guide to the Antarctic.

Clara Kettering-Dunbar is 18 years old and the sole female in a British expedition to the Antarctic in the close of the year 1914. An American veteran of the suffrage movement in Britain, posing as a Canadian, Clara knows she is already pushing the boundaries of what women are societally expected to do. She does have supporters amongst the expedition crew, namely the captain, but just as many who expect her to fail. It will take all of Clara’s strength of will, and an ability to reach beyond her own well-earned beliefs, to see the lessons to be learned from the Antarctic and from her fellow crew.

The account is told as journal entries, and Clara lays bare not only her various experiences, but also her unvarnished feelings in these circumstances. She slowly reveals her unconventional upbringing, her complicated parents, and how she became involved in the suffrage movement. In all that she faces, Clara boldly stands up for her beliefs. Despite coming up against unrelenting misogyny from certain members of the crew, she will not relent in demonstrating her fitness to be part of the team. And then there’s the cold. I could feel it in my bones reading about all the many layers Clara puts on to keep herself warm, and the constant juggling required to keep the crew marginally protected and fed. Let’s just say that the Antarctic is something I’d much rather read about than actually experience. If you’re looking for a YA historical (that’s not World War II) taking on an unexpected pocket of history, give A Suffragist’s Guide to the Antarctic a try!

And if you’d like to meet the author in person, you’re in luck! We’re happy to welcome Yi Shun Lai to Island Books on Saturday, April 6th at 4:30pm. She’ll be in conversation with Justina Chen, and it’s sure to be a fascinating talk. We look forward to seeing you!

— Lori