Determined to defy expectations, 16-year-old Ida Gaze sets out to be the first person to swim the Bristol Channel in 1928. Beside her, always encouraging her, is her best friend Freda Voyle, and in her mind, her idol, Amelia Earhart. Many years later, Cecily Stirling, an old woman, is comforted by the presence of a young, vivacious girl Sarah, who points towards a photo of a woman in bathing costume that Cecily’s partner Freda left behind after her death. This isn’t just a book about Ida’s goal; it’s a book about finding yourself, achieving your dreams, and discovering who and what really matters to you.
I received Wonder Girls unsolicited for review, but I was so immediately drawn into the idea of the story that I couldn’t help but pick it up almost right away. This is a book that is almost entirely about women, what drives them, and even how much things have changed (and not) over the years that the book spans. During Ida’s youth, women are making strides, campaigning for freedom, determining the course of the future for themselves. Her swim, while fictional, reflects the real-life goal setting of two women around the same time period across the Bristol Channel and is thus perfectly true to life. At the same time, when she’s finished, her drive to go to London and make something of herself, which she persuades her friend Freda to do as well, is similarly characteristic of her drive.
But then the big city happens to both of the girls in different ways, and it’s only through Cecily’s story that we discover where they ended up after the dust settled, though Cecily herself has also been affected by their journeys.
I liked the way this book explored all of the relationships within it; Ida and Freda’s close friendship, Cecily and Freda’s years-long romance as well as their relationship with a character who enters into the story later, and Cecily’s budding friendship with young Sarah. I liked that Jones treated the relationships between women, romantic or friendship, as normal love, just as valid as any other kind, and just as moving. I was swept up in these characters’ lives and grew to care for each of them in their own way.
We also see how much people change when their circumstances do. Ida, for instance, is blindsided when she moves to London, intoxicated by her effect on men, but losing sight of who she truly is and what her goals in life are in the swirl of rather frivolous consumerism that her new position grants her. The book, to a large extent, shines a huge spotlight on how shallow our lives can turn when we get too distracted by possessions and positions and forget to focus on what we love.
But truly, Wonder Girls is a fascinating book, set in different eras of change for women, with fantastic characters that will keep you turning the pages. Great first effort from Catherine Jones.
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