Friday Reads: Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey


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When it seems like absolutely everything is going awry, cracking open a work of dystopic fiction doesn’t sound like the wisest idea, but Gailey’s novella Upright Women Wanted is a timely message of hope, community, and resistance – and of Librarianship. 

Yes, this book is about Librarians. Gunslinging, horseback-riding, revolutionary queer librarians. Upright Women Wanted is something of a Western, set in the near-future, and is pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted from a story.   

When Esther flees from home after her (secret) girlfriend Beatriz’s execution at the hands of her father, she stows herself into the back of a Librarian wagon, determined to become a morally upright woman (as all Librarians, who are tasked in this dystopic, what Publisher’s Weekly called “neo-western,” America to distribute Approved Materials, are supposed to be).   

What Esther is soon to discover is that nothing she was told about the world, about Librarians – and about herself – is true. As she makes her way across the Southwest in the company of the Librarians, she’s forced to reckon with the State of things (pun intended), and with who she is and who she can be and love.

I love a Western, and I love a diverse Western, especially, and most of all I love a diverse, science-fiction Western. Throw a band of roving librarians into the mix and I’m sold. One of the events in history that I am most fascinated by is the WPA Pack Horse Library Project, ever since I stumbled across That Book Woman by Heather Henson. The Pack Horse Library Project is such a unique time period, and it captures the imagination and inspiration. Librarians are connected to our communities in a unique way, and the way we strive to maintain those connections – and advocate for those communities – is just as important as the distribution of materials. I couldn’t find any evidence to confirm that Gailey was inspired by this era, but it’s clear that love and a similar spirit went into the novella, regardless. 

Upright Women Wanted is a fast-paced, quick-read of a book, with plenty of well-written action and characters. While my main complaint was that I wanted it to be longer, to have its world and all its circumstances and people fully fleshed out, it truly holds its own for a 170-odd page novella. I would definitely pick up a full novel of this story, or I hope that Gailey at least decides to pen a longer follow-up.

Gailey, Sarah. Upright Women Wanted. Tom Doherty Associates, 2020.

Henson, Heather. That Book Woman. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008.

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