Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Mur­der­ess­es, Thieves, and Oth­er Female Villains

Jane Yolen & Hei­di E. Y. Stem­ple; Rebec­ca Guay, illus.
  • Review
By – October 31, 2013

Scan­dalous sto­ries of schemers, mur­der­ers, pow­er-mon­gers, and cut-throat entrepre­neurs sound like today’s news. It is also the sub­ject of Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murder­esses, Thieves, and Oth­er Female Vil­lains. The book takes a look at smart, ambi­tious, and famous women that soci­ety deemed bad. Chap­ters take a look at head­line grab­bing ladies from the Bible to the era of explo­ration to the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion to the Wild West to the Depression.

Beau­ti­ful­ly ren­dered illus­tra­tions at the begin­ning of every chap­ter exu­ber­ant­ly por­tray the women as fig­ures of action. But the fac­tu­al telling of their sto­ries is not all. At the end of each chap­ter, a one-page, mul­ti-frame com­ic por­trays the moth­er-daugh­ter authors dis­cussing whether the char­ac­ter was actu­al­ly bad, a vic­tim of her cir­cum­stance or ahead of her time. This is whim­si­cal­ly done show­ing the pair engaged in light-heart­ed research.”

The Jew­ish con­nec­tion is ten­u­ous. Delilah is con­nect­ed to Sam­son; Vir­ginia Hill was Bugsy Siegel’s girl­friend; Jezebel was sur­round­ed by Jew­ish rab­ble.” How­ev­er Bad Girls taps into provoca­tive themes we still strug­gle with today, tak­ing a crit­i­cal look at women and pow­er, inde­pen­dence, and sex­u­al­i­ty. There have been a lot Jew­ish women (Emma Gold­man, Bel­la Abzug, Glo­ria Steinem, Women of the Wall) who have riled people/​made noise/​advocated for them­selves and oth­ers and, in the process, been con­sid­ered as step­ping out of their accept­ed role, bad or annoy­ing. The authors probe fur­ther into moti­va­tions and sit­u­a­tions. The mer­it of the book is that it is quirky, off­beat, and plain interesting.

Discussion Questions