“It is our flaws that make us beloved by heaven. It is our scars and handicaps and lack of symmetry that prove that we are-or once were-alive.”

The Taxidermists Wife

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When I first began the eARC for Dreadful Young Ladies I was a bit confused. The chapters weren’t titled so as I read there were times I didn’t realize one had ended and the next had begun. That is not something that affected my review, but the publisher just made it a bit difficult to read this copy.
Dreadful Young Ladies is a collection of short stories that range from fantasy to horror fiction. I am obsessed with the cover! It is so beautiful and symbolizes the magic and fantasy underneath. It is whimsical with a touch of creepiness which is how I would describe this book.

A stunning new collection of short stories from the World Fantasy Award– and Newbery Medal–winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

From award-winning, New York Times bestselling author Kelly Barnhill comes a stunning collection of stories, teeming with uncanny characters whose lives unfold in worlds at once strikingly human and eerily original.

By an author hailed as “a fantasist on the order of Neil Gaiman” (Minneapolis Star Tribune), the stories in Dreadful Young Ladies feature bold, reality-bending invention underscored by richly illuminated universal themes of love, death, jealousy, hope, and more.

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The first few stories knocked my socks off! Unfortunately, the book slumped in the middle with some confusing and uninteresting (to me) stories, but it did pick up at the end with the final story The Unlicensed Magician. Below I will give you the name of the story, a brief review of it, then a simple synopsis. I gave this book 3 Stars overall because I like the majority of the stories within it.

Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch was original and put me in the right mindset to read this book. I learned right away to expect the unexpected from this collection after reading about a widow who falls in love with a Sasquatch.
“There are people, he thought, who are easy to love. And that is that.”
When Mrs. Sorensen’s husband dies, she rekindles a long-dormant love with an unsuitable mate.

Open the Door and the Light Pours Through was a touching ghost story which I found enjoyable. I really enjoyed how much character depth Kelly was able to give us with such a short story.
Once there was a boy who loved a boy who did not love him back. Once there was a girl who loved a boy who loved a boy. Once there was a girl who loved a boy who loved her back. Mostly.”
A young man wrestles with grief and his sexuality in an exchange of letters with his faraway beloved.

The Dead Boy’s Last Poem This story was about a young poet who’s poems live on after he is dead. They literally follow his beloved around in her life after he dies.
“Don’t date poets, her mother said. More trouble than they’re worth. Open them up and there’s nothing more than a wad of torn up paper at the heart.”

Dreadful Young Ladies is the title story of this book like the title track on a CD. I found the short little snippets that made up Dreadful Young Ladies were all very different and intriguing. At the start of each “chapter”, we meet a new girl or woman and the story slowly reveals her dreadful secret.
1. Fran
It was easy enough to lose a child by accident.To do so on purpose turned out to be nearly impossible.”

The Taxidermist’s Other Wife  I didn’t care for this story but I did highlight a bunch of quotes about taxidermy. My husband does taxidermy as a hobby so there was lots of good info.
“If the artisan does not love the expired subject on the table, it is true, the final project will be a cold, dead thing. A monstrosity. A hideous copy of what once was unique and alive and beautiful.”

Elegy To Gabrielle-Patron Saint Of Healers, Whores and Righteous Thieves  Meh. I did enjoy hearing of the magic that was happening in the village as Gabrielle grew up…

Notes on the Untimely Death of Ronia Drake This is where the book began to lose me. I didn’t find this story enjoyable and I got confused in parts. Maybe it was just me? I didn’t understand how the witch came into the story and why the step mother hated her husbands first wife so much. I probably should re-read it, but I just don’t have the time for re-reads.
A witch is haunted by the deadly repercussions of a spell.

The Insect and the Astronomer This one completely bored me. I skimmed through it and tried to catch on to what the point was, but I never got it nor did I care.
Upends expectations about good and bad, knowledge and ignorance, love and longing.

The Unlicensed Magician was really great! This was my favorite story in the collection. It has a Dystopian feel to it and I found myself very invested in the Sparrow and the people who loved her. One thing I will say though is that I felt this story dragged on a bit too long.  Fun Fact: This short story won the World Fantasy Award!
Introduces the secret magical life of an invisible girl once left for dead—with thematic echoes of Barnhill’s Newbery Medal–winning novel, The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

Kelly Barnhill is a wonderful writer. Her stories are full of beautiful writing and colorful imagery. I could envision the landscapes she describes and could see the characters she created. That is why I hate saying anything negative about an artists work.  Some of these short stories were misses for me, but as I have said before in other reviews, books and works of art are subjective. While I didn’t enjoy all of this book, the next person will love the whole thing. Writing a book is one of the hardest things to do. I have so much respect for writers and give them all credit for doing something that I cannot. Below is a quote she wrote about reading and it is one I will write down and save forever. It is perfect!
“We read because we hunger to know, to empathize, to feel, to connect, to laugh, to fear, to wonder, and to become, with each page, more than ourselves. To become creatures with souls. We read because it allows us, through force of mind, to hold hands, touch lives, speak as  another listens, and feel as another feels. We read becasue we wish to journey forth together. There is despite everything, a place for empathy and compassion and rumination, and just knowing that fact for me, is an occasion for joy!”
 Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Happy Reading

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