Book Review: A Sisterhood of Secret Ambitions

Behind every successful man, there is a strong woman. This adage has been floating around for generations, but what if there was more to it than that? Sheena Boekweg’s A Sisterhood of Secret Ambitions explores just that, in an alternative historical fiction that will knock your socks off.

The Society has been molding women to shape the world through their influence on men since the days of Abigail Adams. As Mothers, Wives, Spinsters, and Gossips, they try and make the world safer for all women. They help women escape dangerous situations, they guide powerful men to good and right decisions, and they do it all in secret.

Elsie joined the Society as a child, chosen to be a Wife and trained up to not only make a man fall in love with her, but to discreetly lead him in all of his decisions. Her dearest friends, Bea and Mira, are trained up in this same fashion, as is their frenemy, Greta. When they’re all selected to compete for a Priority One in the summer of 1926, to win the heart of a future President, their friendship is challenged in new and dangerous ways. To be a First Lady- that’s one of the highest positions in the Society, a real way to make a lasting difference in the world. All they have to do is make one man fall in love with them.

Elsie’s world is well constructed and believable, a 1926 unlike anything we’ve seen. As Prohibition reigns, Elsie and her friends set out to change the world as a Wife. But complications arise- a dashing rumrunner, ambition for more, and a yearning for an acknowledged identity all collide in unanticipated ways.

There was so much to love about this novel. The grand era, the well developed spy network, the tapestry of all women- trans women, women of color, unmarried women, asexual women- all working together to make the world a safer place for women inside and outside the Society alike. It’s a dream world, yet even it is complicated. But the representation of all types of women, and it’s presentation as normal and not a plot point– that is something that makes my heart soar. This novel is inclusive and beautiful in myriad ways, and it’s all presented as standard.

The representation in this novel is absolutely incredible. In addition to the variety of women listed above, there are also all shapes and sizes of women. Elsie is plus sized, as is her dear friend Bea. They are beautiful and comfortable with their size. Much like in our own present day society, it is the outside world that is left uncomfortable with their curves. Though there are a few moments of self-doubt after particularly hurtful moments, their self-love shines through most of all. It’s uplifting and encouraging to see larger main characters, when their size is not a plot point but just a fact of who they are.

The diverse cast is all intricately developed, making the characters feel real and causing the reader to want to befriend all of them. Their relationships to one another, their flaws, their ability to love on another- all of these components combine to create this entirely believable sisterhood, where they can be competing and helping one another at the same time.

The plot is well paced and thoroughly enjoyable. There are moments of intensity in the plot, and I’ll include a trigger warning well down below, as it does contain a spoiler.

This is an iceberg book, so be prepared for a deep dive. There is more here than meets the eye. It is thought provoking, enchanting, and there’s a fair chance it’ll make you cry. It’s one of those novels that once you close the cover, your mind keeps drifting back to it, ruminating over plot points and how it made you feel.

It truly gave me all the feels, in a way I won’t soon be forgetting. It’s the kind of book that stays with you, and it definitely has re-readability.

A Sisterhood of Secret Ambitions will be available on June 1, 2021. Thank you to Net Galley, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, and Feiwel & Friends for this advanced copy so that I could write this review.

The trigger warning below includes a spoiler. Please proceed with caution.











Trigger Warning: This novel contains a child’s death.

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