Edmonton’s Sam Maggs writes for video games—an industry of almost all men, as she points out—and previously penned The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy. In Wonder Women, she returns to guiding girls, offering short chapters on 25 women of diverse races, ages, socio-economic backgrounds and sexualities who fought and sometimes conned their way past cultural obstacles to make significant contributions in typically male-dominated fields. Maggs’s worthy project is to get their stories on the page, especially in front of young women interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields—because, as Maggs writes in her introduction, “representation matters.”
Maggs conducted exceptionally broad research, and with only a few pages for each profile, she offers the choicest details about her fascinating subjects. I was genuinely shocked to discover how many important women I hadn’t heard of: Lise Meitner, the Austrian physicist who discovered and explained nuclear fission; Rosalind Franklin, who discovered the double-helix form of DNA before Watson and Crick; Alice Ball, who developed the first treatment for leprosy. None of these women are household names, because male colleagues received the credit (and sometimes even the Nobel prizes) for their work.
Each section (Women of Science, Women of Medicine, Women of Espionage, Women of Innovation and Women of Adventure) includes better-known women, such as Marie Curie, Hedy Lamarr and Amelia Earhart, in a series of one-paragraph profiles, along with an interview with a woman working in that field today. The book also features a bibliography of further reading and an appendix of websites for women in the STEM fields. The book is a visual treat, with each featured woman illustrated by cartoonist Sophia Foster-Dimino.
Maggs writes intelligently and lucidly, but adopts a proto-Millennial voice that will draw in some readers while annoying or alienating others. At best, Maggs’s use of “bad-ass babe” and “she ain’t afraid of no pope” renders her material accessible; at worst, using “she’s like” instead of “she said” emulates the air-headed tone women sometimes employ to counter the gravity of what we need to impart. Do we really need to adopt silly personas to trick people into listening to us? Doesn’t that undermine the point of the book? That said, I learned plenty from this attractive volume. I recommend it as a gift for young women and men who deserve an accurate picture of history, including all the marginalized people whose stories deserve, finally, to be known.
—Naomi K. Lewis writes, edits and teaches in Calgary.