“The Girl Explorers” by Jayne E. Zanglein – Review

By: Angie Haddock


The Girl Explorers is the inspirational and untold story of the founding of the Society of Women Geographers―an organization of adventurous female world explorers―and how key members served as early advocates for human rights and paved the way for today’s women scientists by scaling mountains, exploring the high seas, flying across the Atlantic, and recording the world through film, sculpture, and literature.

Goodreads


I’ve delved into a lot of stories about badass, historical women this year! This one seemed like a perfect fit with that theme. And, while the individual stories were often interesting… the book as a whole was frustrating.

The author introduces us to an actual society that existed (and still exists) for women explorers. It was founded because, at the time, women were excluded from other similar societies/professional groups. And yet, women were going on travel expeditions, writing books about their travels, and more!

One of the ongoing themes that really struck a chord is that, often, women were part of bigger (co-ed) expeditions that men took all the credit for. They helped write (or type, or edit) the travel books that had men’s names attached as the sole author. Or they took all the photographs. Sometimes these men were their husbands or lovers, but not always.

As I said, the individual stories were often interesting. Some members whose names are still known include Margaret Mead and Amelia Earhart, for example. Others traveled to Asia and South America; some were artists, divers, filmmakers, or mountain climbers. The book also delves into the suffragist movement a little.

This brings me to one of the missteps I felt like this book took… as it went on, it started bringing up all kinds of social movements of the time, including the plights of other races and of the LGBT community. Most of the women of the Society were white women of some means (at least enough to travel regularly), and tying their causes to some of these other ones seemed like it was treading close to becoming a “white savior” narrative.

The author tries to tie every story/chapter to the next, and often these transitions seem forced. Also, as some women were older than others, the stories skip back and forth in time, making these transitions even more wonky. The book as a whole didn’t feel like it had a great flow, if you will. Of course, this is just my opinion.

Overall, I’m glad I pushed my way through this one. I was happy to learn about some of these women, and their work, many of whom I had not read about before. But as a whole, the book felt a little like “work” to get through.

I was able to read this one for free through the Sourcebooks Early Reads program.


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