Summer is almost upon us, and we should all be starting our beach reading lists. There is a book called Radio Girls that PopSugar recommends for Best 2016 Summer reading, and you should have it on your own list too. The book was written by UC Santa Cruz alumna Sarah-Jane Stratford, and it is one fantastic read.
Radio Girls is the best kind of historical fiction in that it tells a real story with real people, but from a fictional character’s point of view. I am not sure what I initially expected of this book, but it is definitely much more than I had imagined!
It covers part of the story of the beginning years of the BBC. As I read, I started googling the guest speakers they mentioned and found these very real people to be fascinating, but then I googled Hilda Matheson, a prominent character who works at the BBC in the book, and discovered she was a real person too. After discovering that most of the characters were real-life people, I realized this was actually a fairly true story told from a (fictional) assistant’s point of view. This upped my fascination level even higher than it was when I began the book.
I had never read a book that revolved around radio’s beginnings, and it really brought to light not only how much the world changed with that one invention, but how similar the change was then to these new internet days now. There was so much talk of the world becoming a smaller place, and how everyone with access to a radio could now get so much knowledge they had no access to before, and how it would help people who felt alone in the world. These are all things they say about the internet now. As far as we’ve come in the last 100 years, the radio also gave us a huge jump in technology and knowledge and connection with the world.
With this knowledge however comes the question of who will control the dissemination of that knowledge. BBC’s beginnings came at the same time as Women’s Suffrage in the UK, and those grumbling times are remarkably similar to today’s political atmosphere. Women’s Rights also meant loss of the men’s complete control of the world, and they certainly were not happy about it. World War I had just ended, governments were reorganizing, and businesses across borders were forming new alliances. The stock market crash in the US had just as great an effect across the Atlantic. There were at least two opposing views on each of these topics, and control of the BBC meant control of the information the world received.
In the middle of all this is young Maisie, our fictional heroine who lands a low-level job at the BBC hoping to find a husband, but instead finds a career and a new life plan. A life plan she could barely comprehend as it wasn’t even a possibility just a few years before. Along with Maisie comes a fictional storyline starring the BBC, Nestle and Siemens, and the Nazis. As Sarah-Jane Stratford mentions in the very informative Author’s Note, the actual storyline is fictional, but many of the events surrounding it are not, and many similar events were taking place.
Stratford earned a degree in History at UCSC and went on to obtain a Masters in Medieval History at the University of York in England. She wrote this book because of her fascination with Hilda Matheson from the BBC, and this fascination is transferred to the reader. She was an amazing, high-level career woman in times when there was no such thing, and she was a lesbian to boot. She is a fantastic role model to young women even in our own times.
And so is our young Maisie, who follows her dreams of being a reporter with various levels of success. But in Maisie’s case as it is always, it doesn’t matter how many times you fall down, it matters how many times you get back up. She takes her role as reporter very seriously, and even takes on some spy traits as she works to save free speech in the UK and retain women’s new rights as well.
This is an outstanding book that gets better and better as it goes along. I love that I learned so much, I love that I’ve developed a great interest in the amazing Hilda Matheson, and I really enjoyed the fictional plot. The fictional plot doesn’t get going until the second half, but spending the first half on Maisie’s moving up the ranks and learning about all the real-life changes that happened in those few short years was worth it all.
Sarah-Jane Stratford is also the author of two previous books, and has also written articles and essays for a range of publications, including The Guardian, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Marie-Claire, Bitch, Slate, Salon, Guernica, and BOMB.
Radio Girls will be released June 14. Many thanks to Penguin Books for an advance copy, this book is FIVE STARS without a doubt.