“[They] would never understand what I am finally
understanding, which is that
bodies aren’t lawless spaces
like mom said.
places we are trapped inside,
and the world just gets to
-Mimi, Lawless Spaces
Through the journals of four generations of women in the Dovewick family, Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann Haydu explores the lasting impacts of living in a patriarchal society. The story starts with Mimi, in 2022, who, following family tradition, is gifted a journal for her 16th birthday. But because she has been emotionally (and at times physically) abandoned by her mother, this is all she receives – there is no celebration at all. It is as confusing for the reader as it is for Mimi to understand how her once loving mother has turned into such an unrecognizable stranger who, seemingly, feels nothing towards her daughter save the occasional bursts of anger. To understand this new “mother” Mimi turns to the journals of her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.
The stories, written in verse, that are shared by the different generations of sixteen-year-old include stories of sexual assault, harassment, and trauma. For Mimi, in 2022, it is an image posted on social media that she was coerced into taking. For Tiffany in 1999, it is the non-consensual relationship with a powerful man as she attempts to enter the world of acting. For Betty in 1954, it is the pressure to give up a child to maintain her family’s reputation. And for Virginia in 1924, it is living the life expected when you are the wife of a soldier sent to war.
The generational trauma of these four women leads to intergenerational family trauma where silence, repression, and hostility reign. While it is too late to amend some of these relationships, Mimi is determined to break this cycle of trauma, and salvage what relationships she can.
Ultimately, this is a book about women’s bodies, the ways they have been and continue to be consumed by men, and the power of women joining together and sharing their stories. The message for women to continue to tell their stories is an important one, and many students still need to hear it, and for that reason this novel is an important title to add to a classroom library.