Secret Sisters by Joy Callaway
(Harper Paperbacks – July 11, 2017)
“I promise that above all else, my purpose will be to foster equality and intellect among women” ~ These words of the women’s fraternity Beta Xi Beta pledge really do an amazing job of summing up the heart of this novel. Set in 1881 at the fictional co-ed Whitsitt College in Illinois, the story brings together Beth Carrington and her three friends as they fight for equal rights and permission to create a women’s fraternity on campus, all against incredibly strong societal discrimination against women. Additionally, there is a heavily romantic storyline interwoven with Beth’s determined struggles to be taken seriously as a medical student and get Beta Xi Beta recognized by the male leaders at Whitsitt, but it does not overwhelm the true message of the book.
I have always believed that a strong author’s note really makes a historical fiction novel, and in this case, the author’s note fully sealed the 4th star. Callaway’s attention to detail throughout the book with dialogue, dress, conventions and especially attitudes about gender equality are backed up with her notes about the research she did and her ties to the creation of real sororities (then called fraternities) in the US. The messages from men throughout the book about “hysteria” and women’s inability to pursue mentally strenuous careers due to “blood loss” are horrifying in today’s time and help paint a picture for modern readers about just how hard women have fought for their place in society today.
Recommended for historical fiction fans and readers interested in women’s rights!
Thanks to the author for providing a finished copy of this book for review purposes – all opinions are my own.