Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World is a pitch perfect historical graphic novel for anyone who wants to learn about brazen rebel ladies throughout history. Pénélope Bagieu started with a list of 50 women whose stories she wanted to tell and narrowed it down to about 30 for the book. In interviews, Bagieu is quoted as saying that one of the hardest choices was deciding “whose stories I could tell a 200 times without getting bored of.”  She especially wanted to showcase that not all brazen rebel ladies are western, white, educated, cisgender, straight women. At the end of the book, Bagieu does include the rest of her list of fabulous women for further reading.

Spanning nearly 2500 years of history, Brazen gives life to women such as Agnodice, one of the first women gynecologists who lived in 350 BCE Athens, to Sonita Alizadeh, an Afghanistan rapper born in 1996. Bagieu covers doctors, scientists, artists, explorers, entertainers: just about anyone from anywhere through time. Some of the women I knew, such as Nellie Bly, Josephine Baker, Hedy Lemarr, and Temple Gradin, are listed but others such as Nzinga, warrior queen of Ndongo and Matamba, Cheryl Bridges, athlete, and Giorgina Reid, lighthouse keeper, are entirely new to me. I found myself especially delighted Bagieu made sure Mae Jamison was included, the first black woman in space who happens to be a sci-fi and comics nerd.

Typically in anthologies or in music, the placement of the stories or songs are arranged by the artist just so, with a theme or an overarching story told via that placement. I could not find such a theme here and this is not to say that the work is haphazard—rather the thoughtfulness of the placement of the brazen rebel’s lives are listed such that you could read about a rebel from 2500 years ago and the next story is of a brazen rebel from the 18th century. The book does not need to be read in chronological order, but I will warn you that when you sit down with the book you’ll likely finish it one sitting, just as I did.

Bagieu wrote, illustrated, and colored the art marking her as a force to reckon with. In another interview, Bagieu selected a “very simple palette of four colors for each story, chosen carefully regarding the era, the country, the global feeling of the story.” In between each story is a two page highly detailed and colored spread of the brazen rebel in action, whether she is warrior queen or Temple Gradin and her cows.

Pénélope Bagieu is known for her attention to detail and the wit of her subjects. Here she gives these ladies all the attention and voice that they deserve. Each brazen rebel is finely drawn and brought to life, their stories may be told over a few pages but each story is in-depth enough to whet a history lover’s appetite. Brazen is listed as age appropriate for older teens, 16+, and up, but it could easily become the favorite of middle grades and up, especially as a reference book for further study. Highly recommended for any collection especially for history lists as well as lists for LGTBQ+ peoples.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World
By Pénélope Bagieu
Art by Pénélope Bagieu
ISBN: 978-1626728691 1626728690
First Second, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen (16+)

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  • Lisa R.

    | She/They

    Reviewer and Content Editor

    Lisa (she/they) is a GenXer about town and can be found at https://linktr.ee/heroineinabook. Her favorite Elizabeth Bennet is Keira Knightly. Lisa is @heroineinabook.

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