I had the chance to attend an enlightening book event with Oxford Exchange discussing When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill.
The reason why this event was so enlightening was because we had readers from many generations attend. It was great to hear their point of view and experiences that shaped how they viewed and read this book. This discussion got so personal and deep that I found myself wanting to sit in front of a fire with a coffee to continue talking through the night.
What was incredibly interesting was the fact that some readers liked the beginning of the book better than the end and some liked the end better than the beginning. There were also some who enjoyed the beginning and the end. The ones who liked the beginning liked that the women were angry. The ones who liked the end liked how the women had chilled out and became ok with who they were. A reader who lived in the 1950s, where this book was placed, said that she did not relate to the beginning because when she was living in that time period, the women she knew displayed their anger through depression. It was when those women started protesting that they found empowerment.
What I took away from this discussion that amazed me was what each reader lingered on in the story and how what they lingered on had them interpreting the story. You had some hold onto the anger. Some look for hope and see hope throughout. And some that saw rising to a challenge. There were also others that saw all of those areas and were able to take it all in.
When it came to the transitioning of the book and how the dragons went from what some readers viewed as fierce to then dragons with lipstick, purses, and other things, there were some who disliked that and others who loved it. The ones who loved it thought it was cute and saw it in a way that the women could pick up their femininity again they were throwing away and be them. The ones who weren’t a fan felt that it took them as readers out of the story making them unable to grasp what exactly the dragons looked like.
Everyone loved so many quotes from this book. Everyone also loved how well the author did in holding the headspace of a child for so long. The articles of the alternate history throughout were also a favorite for most of the readers.
This was a great book that held great protentional when it came to discussing issues through the generations.