Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wonderful novella! Action-packed western starring women and non-binary characters. Men need not apply; well... unless for the role of typical bad guy (lol). While there is a lot that is cliche western in Sarah Gailey's Upright Women Wanted; for every cliche there is an idea that I guarantee you've never read in a western story (novella in this case, 176 pages) before. Unless you're a Firefly fan, in which case read this immediately because you'll feel nostalgic for Mal and crew!
These are no Annie Oakley ladies. While they carry firearms and are transporting 'items' between towns; these ladies are also sharing intimate moments together, kissing and more. Something I can't imagine Oakley engaging with. Each character in our crew of five primary travelers holds a piece of the John Wayne/Clint Eastwood archetype for a western fighter; yet they are also so much more. The gem here though is really Cye. A non-binary character to fall in love with.
I adored Cye sooo much. Gailey does a fabulous job from the first moment we meet Cye; it's clear that no he/him or she/her gender specificity applies. The narrative always uses they/them and it really quickly stuck in my head and felt so natural. Unlike other characters I've read in the past, Cye doesn't swap between male and female identity. Instead they exist outside of these gender norms and (for me) it's a breath of fresh air. Gailey describes Cye and their actions so well that I didn't even try to place Cye as 'more' feminine or masculine. They just are themselves.
Now, I hope I didn't use any wrong words here or misrepresent; please feel free to correct me in the comments if I did.
It may seem weird for a member of the LGBTQ+ community, like myself (bisexual) to not fully understand all the different options in sexuality, gender, etc. that we now know exist. But when I was a teen I only understand the concepts of: heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual (and trans but they were put into homosexual category at the time). And so pan sexuality is still something I'm learning about. Cye is one of the first characters I've read where I clearly adore them and would definitively change my own description to pansexual if that means Cye and I can get together.
This is a pretty big deal to me. To date I've told my husband and others that I can't drop the moniker of bisexual because I've never met a non-binary person and don't know how I would react. Assuming Cye is a good representation of non-binary then I'm happy to say that, for me, gender doesn't make a difference; be it male, female or non-binary! This is a really cool realization to have and not at all something I expected to get from Upright Women Wanted.
If you're thinking to yourself 'um Mel this is supposed to be a book review and not about you' right now; all I can respond with is that for me this book was refreshing, fun, and uplifting. It shows that people will find ways to be themselves no matter what constraints are placed on them. We may think the 'typical' western doesn't have room for anyone other than a cis-male but Gailey makes it clear in Upright Women Wanted that this is not true.
I highly recommend this book to pretty much everyone. There is a lot of action and fun packed into 176 pages; but also a lot of social commentary and learning to be had here. You're perhaps unlikely to have an epiphany, like I did, but (I believe) you'll likely enjoy your time in this world. I'm really hoping Gailey plans to revisit these characters and their adventures in the near future.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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