“The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.”
Yeah … who could resist such a tagline? Well, I sure couldn’t and I’m absolutely glad I didn’t, because this turned out amazing! Sarah Gailey’s novella “Upright Women Wanted” tells the story of Esther who stows away on the librarians’ book wagon, after witnessing the public hanging of her best friend and lover, Beatriz. She is afraid of sharing the same “deviance” as Beatriz and hopes the “chaste, morally upright” librarians can help her become the woman the facist regime wants her to be. Uhm, well … In this Western, the librarians are many things but certainly not what Esther thinks they are. Because these queer gunslingers are fierce and amazing and definitely working on smashing the patriarchy. Turns out that Esther has a lot to learn.
I loved this. Yes, it is short but despite its brevity it manages to convey a story filled to the brim with anti-fascism, a couple of shootouts and lots and lots of queerness. Aside from the sapphic librarians there is also a non-binary apprentice librarian (and there is quite a bit of misgendering, as they have to present as female when in contact with society) and one of the central topics of the novella is the existence of queer people in this world and how the librarians try to help them. The characters themselves are kind of a mixed bag. Esther is your basic über-naive YA protagonist and I never really got around to liking her. I loved the other librarians and I would have loved to get to know more about them and their organisation. This is where the novella falls a bit short. Yes, the story fits this format very well but part of me still wants more.
All in all, I enjoyed this a lot. Yes, there is a lot of potential for more, but the novella works well enough on its own. “Upright Woman Wanted” by Sarah Gailey is a fun and intense post-apocalyptic Western with a bunch of gun slinging librarians fighting to smash the patriarchy and that’s just awesome. The one thing I didn’t really like was the protagonist – she is just too much of an ignorant little kid and her opinions (and feelings) change too quickly to be believable. But then, that’s one of the risks of novellas. Still, entirely enjoyable and something I wholeheartedly recommend.
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