Upright Women Wanted was one of the books I was most looking forward to in 2020. This is my first Sarah Gailey, I know them from Twitter and I’ve clocked the reviews here of their books. But the description of Upright Women Wanted caught my attention and plunked itself on my to read list. Alas, I wanted to love this book but instead I just really liked it. Its good, its comfortably three stars good but the idea and themes deserve four. Unfortunately the beginning confused me more than set the stage (although it does that too) and I spent most of my reading time playing catch-up.
Set in a near future American Southwest where extended wars have led to a general collapse in society and a return to a west familiar to Western movie enthusiasts (down to the vernacular), the book is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing. The book follows Esther who is a stowaway in the Librarians’ wagon. Esther is running from her father, an arranged marriage to the man who was previously engaged to her best friend whom she was in love with, and that same friend’s execution for possession of resistance propaganda at the hands of her father.
But the most important part of this book – the part that makes me wish I could comfortably rate it four stars – is the way in which Esther is coming to terms with her queerness, without even having the words to describe it. She has been taught her very being is wrong, damnable, and that she is alone. Through the course of the book she starts to come to understand that the world is populated with people of every stripe, and the Librarians that she has run away with are much less State approved than she initially thought. By the end, Esther has found a home, and a purpose, and I was glad to have read it.