The Power of the Girls

Five-Star Book Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

Do you ever pick up a book from your to-be-read stack and think, why did it take me so long to read this? Well, that was certainly the case for me when I read The Power by Naomi Alderman this week. This book caught my eye years back because it’s dystopian fiction, a favorite genre of mine, but it sat on my shelf unread for too long. Then when I saw that Amazon has adapted The Power into a drama series featuring Toni Collette and Toheeb Jimoh (hello, Sam from Ted Lasso!), I decided it was the perfect time to finally read this book before I tune into the show.

And I’m so glad that I read this book. It starts a little slow, but I quickly found myself wrapped up in a dystopian world where girls have the power to spark electricity from their hands and change society. This is a novel with multiple points of view, and you know from the prologue that the events happened in the past, although it’s unclear what the impact is now. The premise is that somehow young girls around the world are imbued with electrical powers from awakened skeins in their bodies. They can now shock people, send currents of electricity through metals, and play with electrical arcs with their hands. First. these girls keep these powers secret, but then on The Day of the Girls, they can no longer hide, and the patriarchal world turns upside down. Here are a few of the reasons I loved The Power and consider it a five-star book.

Themes within The Power

So many themes are pitted against each other in The Power as young girls learn to harness their electrical strengths, share their sparks with older women, and become the stronger gender across current social norms. Gender norms flip, men become beholden to women for their freedom, and power structures are rebuilt.

Religion is another primary theme in the novel. Mother Eve, a main character, teaches that the Christian mother of Jesus, Mary, was the true giver of life, as Ruth was the most powerful in the Jewish tradition, as Fatima was in the Muslim faith, and as Tara was in the Hindu religion. Mother Eve asserts that women from all religious teachings should be the most worshipped as the Mother of all, and her preachings spread across the world. From that, however, comes the uprising of cults, as other women use their power to control, abuse, and even sacrifice men, and we see concept of humanity challenged across the world.

The Characters of The Power

The majority of the main characters whose viewpoints we experience in The Power are young teenagers at the beginning of the novel before The Day of the Girls:

  • Roxy is the illegitimate daughter of a British gang leader. She has few scruples and immense power with the potential to take down armies of men.
  • Ally is the adopted daughter of a strict, abusive southern Florida couple. Despite their cruelty, she knows her power is a gift. The voice she hears tells her so.
  • Jocelyn is the privileged but vulnerable daughter of a prominent, powerful mayor. Her power is unreliable, as is her behavior.

Mayor Margot Cleary, Jocelyn’s mother, is another main character in the novel. At first she faces decisions on how to stop girls from spreading the power to others and then becomes engaged in a morale battle of how to succeed in her career without damaging her daughter or the world.

And then there is Tunde, the only male point of view in the novel. He is an ambitious young man who seizes the opportunity to capture a girl using her power on video that launches his career as a rogue journalist who will stop at nothing to document the power across the world.

All of these characters grow over the decade or so that their stories span. Roxy, Ally, and Jocelyn learn to harness and use their powers to different effects, and they along with Margot and Tunde each experience the positives and negatives that come from the power itself. With additional side characters who are just as interesting and morally grey as these five, Ms. Alderman has created a character-driven story that is full of tension and leaves you hoping that each will come to their own right conclusions, whatever those may be.

The Structure of The Power as a Novel

The multiple points of view give a depth to The Power that is very intense and engaging. You are engrossed in each character’s experiences as they are well-developed, nuanced individuals. But the structure of the novel is interesting for another reason, as it is presented as an anthropological study at first, with letters in the prologue and epilogue between two authors debating the value of the history within the pages. The book includes illustrations of sculptures and artifacts from the time period, which these two authors refer to as the Cataclysm. This adds another layer to the book and makes it feel like an even more realistic history of what a dystopian world could have been.

The Power was my first five-star read for April 2023, and now I’m hungry for more dystopian fiction. Is this a genre you like to read? If so, drop a note and tell me about your favorites!

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