trigger warnings: rape, sexual assualt, sexual harassment, coercion for sex, sexism, misogyny, PTSD (within characters), alcoholism, sexist slurs.
G’day friends! Today, I am bringing to you a review for S. M. Stevens’ Handshoes and Handgrenades as part of the blog tour! So definitely make sure you check out the other posts as part of this blog tour!
S.M. Stevens’ Horseshoes and Handgrenades is a powerful and timely written novel which explores the issues of sexism and sexual assualt as well as the micro-aggressions which women deal with in their everyday life. The official synopsis from Goodreads is as follows:
Fragile but practical Shelby Stewart and ambitious, confident Astrid Ericcson just want to start their PR careers in 1980s Boston and maybe find a nice guy to hang out with. But long-buried memories of incest at the hands of her local hero stepfather keep interrupting Shelby’s plans, affecting her health one way after another. And when will she actually date someone her friends think is good enough for her?
Astrid thinks she wrote the book on How to Get Ahead by Flirting but is forced to re-visit her career advancement strategy when her boss Brad takes the innuendos to a whole new, scary level, threatening her job and her safety.
Suddenly, instead of taking charge of their lives, both women find themselves spinning out of control.
In this fast-paced story for the #metoo generation, the women reach new highs and lows in life, work and romance, while struggling to make sense of the abusive relationships that haunt them.
thoughts on the story & characters
This novel is a dual perspective narration, from Shelby and Astrid, our main protagonists within the context of the 1980s. We meet these two characters when they are both working in public relations, in a corporate workplace setting which is conveyed in a very realistic and authentic manner – especially in terms of the contextual forms of misogyny and sexism in the workplace. I should state that the sexism and harassment that the women are confronted with may be a trigger warning for some as there were times when I had to put the book down and scream from absolute frustration and infuriation because how dare men treat women like that. Then realising, men still treat us like that.
Anyway, moving on.
Shelby’s secret, that which is disclosed in the synopsis, slowly begins to seep into her everyday life. That is, the trauma and effect of it and she realises the magnitude of it and how it has impacted the way in which she exists within the world. She is quite young and passionate, but the trauma from her childhood has resulted in a variety of self-disruptive behaviours. I found Shelby to be an interesting character but I ultimately found her to be somewhat selfish and attention-seeking, which I understand can be the result of her trauma. However, even though the majority of this book is about recovery, Shelby’s coping mechanism (alcohol) because of her trauma was not sufficiently addressed in a way that was healthy and marked a trajectory of self-healing. Especially in the second half of the novel, I felt that we got more of Shelby’s perspective than Astrid’s which slightly annoyed me since I was considerably interested in Astrid’s character growth. I just felt that Astrid was pushed to the side in the wake of Shelby and her selfishness.
Astrid’s character was one that I believe fully engaged me with this storyline. Her experiences in the workplace, especially with her superior, was one that hit me in the gut. We see men using their position of power to gain sexual favours by women in inferior job roles on threat of being fired. I found Astrid’s internal monologue to be extremely poignant – I think I just connected really well with her. I wish she found the strength to move on from her job earlier, but it just highlights the hardships women go through at times, making such decisions of having to leave their job or some sort of environment, to feel safe.
The overall story of women coming together and supporting each other, is what I was so completely here for. I love when I read about women empowering each other and strengthen each other through love and support. We need more books like this! Especially in ‘women’s fiction’, I find that women are always positioned in competition with each other and we need that to stop. Reading about these women warmed my heart and soul and made me reach out to the women in my life and proclaim my love for them.
I highly recommend this book to those who are interested in the exploration of these themes. Please make sure you read the trigger warnings though, as this book does concern pretty heavy topics in regards to sexual assualt and harassment. I rate it a 4 out of 5 stars and I think that the timing of this novel is incredibly timely in the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement so I honestly think that you should give this book a read!
Make sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour! And I want to thank the author, S. M. Stevens for giving me the opportunity to read her book in exchange for an honest review.
Until next time, happy reading!
All the love,
About the Author:
S.M. Stevens began writing fiction during back-to-back health crises. First, she broke her pelvis in three places in a horseback riding fall, and used the recuperation period to write Shannon’s Odyssey, a middle-grade novel for animal-lovers. Soon after, Stevens was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. During her five months of treatment and subsequent recovery spell, she wrote Bit Players, Has-Been Actors and Other Posers for musical theatre-loving teens. Two additional Bit Players novels followed. Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is her first adult book. After watching reactions to the #MeToo movement, she decided it was time for a novel that takes people into the minds of victims so they can understand why many women don’t speak up about their harassment or assault, and why some do. When not writing, she provides marketing and public relations services to solar energy companies. She is from Gorham, Maine, and now lives in Clinton, Mass., and Washington, N.H. She has also lived in Italy and in the U.K
Where to buy:
Barnes & Noble: https://bit.ly/2QPKR6s
Amazon (US): https://www.amazon.com/dp/1946920711
Amazon (UK): https://amzn.to/33oQ5Zz