“It’s always the boys who get the heroes, as though girls can’t do brave things too,” says one of the characters in Catherine Jones’ Wonder Girls, a moving and inspirational novel which succeeds in showing that girls can be just as heroic as boys.
In 1928 when Ida Gaze, a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl, announces that she’s going to become the first person ever to swim the Bristol Channel between Wales and England, nobody takes her seriously. Nobody, that is, except her best friend, Freda Voyle. Inspired by the American aviator Amelia Earhart who had recently landed on the coast of Wales after becoming the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, Ida is determined to prove that she can do what no man has ever been able to do.
Years later, Freda’s partner, Cecily, finds an old black and white photograph of Ida amongst Freda’s things. Encouraged by Sarah, a younger woman who has befriended her, Cecily begins to investigate and learns more about the girl in the picture. Throughout the novel we move backwards and forwards in time as Cecily’s story, taking place in 2009, becomes linked with the story of Ida and Freda all those decades earlier.
All of the women we meet in this book are interesting, complex people. They all have a lot of strength and courage, but also some weaknesses that make them more human and more believable as characters. I loved Cecily (I think it would be difficult not to), was alternately impressed and frustrated by Ida, but the character who I found most memorable and who has stayed in my mind a couple of weeks after finishing the book is Freda. I didn’t like Freda at first as I thought she seemed hard and obnoxious, but I quickly discovered that underneath she was a very sensitive, loving person and I felt so sorry for her as she and Ida grew older and started to want different things out of life.
The novel explores other relationships too – some are good and some are bad, some are romantic and some are not. One of my favourites was the friendship that develops between Cecily, in her eighties, and the thirty-four-year-old Sarah. It was so nice to read about two women of different generations and different backgrounds becoming such good friends and being able to give each other the support and advice each of them needed.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Wonder Girls. I received a review copy from the publisher, Simon & Schuster, and I’m glad I did because it’s probably not a book I would have chosen for myself. Wonder Girls has its sad, poignant moments, but in the end it’s an uplifting and inspiring novel, as well as a fascinating one. At the back of the book the author has included some information on some ‘real life wonder girls’. Reading these true stories along with the stories of Ida and Freda, Cecily and Sarah, couldn’t fail to make you feel proud of all the things women have achieved.