PulseBooks: Female friendships can change the world

For decades, it has been the belief that female writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries were enemies, competing against each other in the literary world. In the new book A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), authors Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney prove that it was just the opposite: Many female authors viewed their friendships as special, valued each other’s criticism and used it to improve. In other words, it was more Sex and the City than Real Housewives. Midorikawa and Sweeney, who bonded over their mutual love of writing, much like their subjects, use content from letters between the title authors and their female companions (some of which have never been published) to explore the “forgotten stories of female friendships.” The authors bring life to the “spinster” Austen; the “impassioned roamer of the moors” Bronte; the “shunned” Eliot; and the “melancholic genius” Woolf, whose relationship with Katherine Mansfield was not only friendly, but also intimate. According to the authors, “a conspiracy of silence has obscured the friendships of female authors, past and present,” and this book is meant to showcase and celebrate this literary sisterhood.

There is another, more serious, sisterhood of women that unfortunately exists today: those who are victims of sexual assault. In his new book Yes Means Yes: A Novel (Overlake Media), Steven M. Wells dissects the timely issue of campus rape, the emotional struggle of its victims and a legal process that makes it hard to seek justice. Mills delivers his important message through a legal drama, in which the main character, Katie Russell, a first-year grad student, witnesses the rape of her neighbor by the university’s quarterback. In an attempt to put the incident behind her, Ava refuses to press charges and ruin the QB’s career (he also happens to be her ex-boyfriend). However, Katie is determined to see him punished after he receives a “slap on the wrist” from the university. Beneath the fictional characters, Mills incorporates layers of “real research based on current law and realistic case descriptions, [interviews] with sex crime prosecutors and recent college graduates” in order to provide a very authentic and authoritative narrative based on experience and reality rather than fiction. Though Title IX is the most familiar legislation when it comes to sexual assault on campus, this book is steeped in the California Senate Bill 967 Yes Means Yes law, which threatens to cut funding for state schools if they fail to implement an informed-consent policy. In the novel, Katie must analyze the sensibility of the law for a class paper while she is also applying it to her own life and her friend’s situation. Though sometimes the story might read like a legal textbook, it is an important book to help readers understand the intricacies of sexual assault on college campuses.

Kimberly Dunbar