Publisher: Tor.com (Tor Books)
Release Date: February 4, 2020
Available Through The Book Depository: Upright Women Wanted
Cover Design: Will Staehle
Summary: “That girl’s got more wrong notions than a barn owl’s got mean looks.”
Esther is a stowaway. She’s hidden herself away in the Librarian’s book wagon in an attempt to escape the marriage her father has arranged for her–a marriage to the man who was previously engaged to her best friend. Her best friend who she was in love with. Her best friend who was just executed for possession of resistance propaganda.
The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.
My Rating: ★★★★☆
My Thoughts: Upright Women Wanted is a dystopian novella that follows Esther, a stowaway who joins a group of Librarians as they travel across the American southwest! Set in a near-future Wild West, Gailey delivers a character-driven, atmospheric tale of adventure featuring a band of Queer women librarians!
Pride Month has recently started and I’m thrilled to have picked up this novella! It was so much fun and the unique fusion of genres is something I admire about Tor’s work. My love of fiction podcasts has made me realize that I adore genre mashups and that became even more clear as I read Upright Women Wanted. Also, this book has definitely gone under the radar so please pick it up!
After Esther Augustus witnesses the execution of her first love Beatriz, she finds herself hiding in a Librarians wagon, who travel across towns to deliver “Approved Materials” by the State.
Daughter of a high-ranking official/ Superintendent, she isn’t entirely sure of what her plan is…even after being told to marry someone she has no interest in and her love is dead, but one thing is certain…she had to flee. What follows is traveling across deserts and towns in the American Southwest, fighting bandits, deputies, and more importantly, fighting for justice!
Esther, whose lived a very sheltered life, wants nothing more than to avoid bringing trouble to her fellow Librarians: Bet, Leda, and Cye (who uses they/them pronouns). But she realizes that living on the fringes of this dystopian world means she must learn to finally accept herself and grow, despite the challenges ahead.
Told through a 3rd person POV, its so easy to find yourself in the atmosphere of the wild west and the unique world that Gailey has delivered. In the near-future, the US is divided into Quadrants and while there’s knowledge about our modern-day technology, now people have preferred to live in an old western society. There’s a grittiness to the world that sticks in your mind as you turn each page.
After some convincing, Esther sticks with the Librarians to become a bookbinder and learns their job is something so much more than just delivering books and media. As they reach isolated towns across the states, she learns more about the government she’s known all her life and the Librarians who are changing it!
While this is very much a journey story, Gailey puts such a focus on Esther’s own personal story and her own internal development. She’s finding the confidence within, alongside accepting herself as she is. From her fears about bringing harm and trouble to the Librarians, even her uncertainty of where she belongs in the world are beautifully cemented into the narrative.
As the Librarians take Esther towards Utah, she also meets Genevive, Trace, and Amity who become part of the crew. Among all of them, I felt Amity really got more page-time/development, especially nearing the end! She gets Esther to face some truths about the world around her. Amity is mysterious, clever and all around great character who I had fun reading about. Her dynamic with Esther was another one of my favorite character moments in the story!
Esther and Cye had such a beautiful dynamic that develops throughout the entirety of the novella and I adored them so much!! Cye shows her the ropes and I loved seeing the both of them grow together.
From the beginning of Upright Women Wanted, we see there’s this internalized misogyny and Queerphobia throughout this futuristic society. It was fascinating to explore those ideas and challenge them through a near-future and Western setting (where in reality, the history of the Wild West has been incredibly diverse). Gailey brilliantly juxtaposed this idea of a typically assumed non-diverse part of history with Queer representation and powerful female characters!
The world itself was fantastic and getting to explore it through the tiniest of details, was a lot of fun! There’s specific types of gravel that highlight a town’s wealth, different roles for Librarians, even minor hints as to life before the Quadrants / territories. I was also fascinated with learning how vital the Librarians job is in getting Materials across the country. The descriptions develop a clear setting in your mind and above all, its such an atmospheric story.
Its incredibly easy to lose yourself in this world and not only follow the journey, but also learn about the different characters and layers to them that get revealed little by little.
The themes explored throughout this novel are layered and subtle in some ways, but are so present when you look at this story as a whole. From the element of found family, themes of friendship, and hope of rebellion for a better society. The exploration of love and self are also present as Esther connects more with the Librarians.
Upright Women Wanted also presents Queer rep.! There’s f/f rep. (Bet and Leda), even a lovely relationship that develops between Esther and Cye. There’s also nonbinary representation as Cye uses they/them pronouns (however uses ‘she’ when in town).
After reaching that last page, I NEED more adventures with Cye and Esther!! 💖
While this is an all-around fantastic novella, I wanted to delve into why its 4 stars, for me personally. The concept of the Librarians and the Materials they deliver across the country, alongside their underlying rebellion and their roles as librarians in general was so fascinating…BUT, I felt the novella just barely got through the surface of what they are capable of. I really just wish the concept was developed a bit more, because its such a highlight of the world.
I also wish there were additional plot points to become more familiar with the Librarians and just get to know these characters a bit more. Overall there’s a brilliant and unique idea that Gailey presented I just felt there needed to be more plot-wise to explore it.
As with all Tor novellas, I’d be thrilled to see future books set in this world, perhaps even a series? But from what I’ve read, I think its a standalone. Also, because of how unique the story was and all that it explores, this was probably one of my toughest reviews I’ve written in a while. If my review has convinced you to read or check out this wonderful novella, please let me know, I’d love to chat about it with all of you! 💞
Upright Women Wanted is a spectacular dystopian, western novella featuring a great cast of characters, Queer librarian spies, adventure and so much more! The immersive world, unique concepts, and underlying themes make this a great novella worth checking out. Its Hopepunk meets the Wild West!