During the Mass Dragoning of 1955, thousands of women were transformed into dragons and fled their human lives for a new beginning. Alex’s aunt Marla is one of those women who dragoned and now her daughter, Beatrice is living with Alex and her family. As the world moves on from this phenomenon, talking about dragons becomes a taboo topic and Alex and Beatrice are left wondering what happened and hiding the truth about their family. After a tragedy in the family, Alex begins caring for Beatrice and works to find a way to keep her safe and human.
This is a dramatic, moving, and totally unique story. I really enjoyed reading it and thought it was so clever. I loved the idea of women turning into dragons in the 1950s. It’s such an interesting shift in power. These women were able to leave their abusive or neglectful husbands, fathers, and bosses and start a new life in which they are strong, powerful, and independent. Equally fascinating are the women who could have dragoned but chose to stay for a variety of reasons, like Alex’s mother. I loved how the book examined traditional gender roles, showcasing women who both fit into that mold and those that did not.
I also loved the way that dragoning became a topic avoided by people, the media, and the government. It was such a thoughtful way to show how women have always been pushed aside by these institutions; even something as massive as thousands of women becoming dragons is not talked about. Between chapters in Alex’s perspective are excerpts from papers and speeches by a scientist who studies dragons. These excerpts revealed the government’s push to hide the Mass Dragoning by not allowing scientists to study the dragons and publish their findings. There are so many things in society today that feel the same and I thought these excerpts were particularly prescient.
The writing is compelling and the characters are well-developed and interesting. Alex is a thoughtful girl faced with an enormous burden and we follow her perspective as she struggles to understand the world around her and her place in it. Beatrice is an adorable child with a big heart and a deep feeling that she is a dragon. Another character that I thought was wonderful was the librarian who helps Alex in her studies and pushes her to explore the world and question everything she’s been told.
Overall this is a thoughtful, powerful coming-of-age story that packs a big impact when thinking about society today. I thought this was a great, fun read while still being thought-provoking. If you’ve read When Women Were Dragons, let me know what you thought!
CW: parental neglect, homophobia, cancer, death of a parent