Ironhead, or Once a Young Lady

Ironhead cover
Ironhead, or Once a Young Lady by Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem. Translated from the Dutch by Kristen Gehrman

By Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem
Translated from the Dutch by Kristen Gehrman
Levine Querido, 2022
368 pages

Age 13 and older

Stance, 18, lives in Ghent in 1808. She’s always looking for experiences more interesting than what her fate as a woman seems to hold. Her brother Pier, 14, who wants to be a scholar, is dismayed by his older sister’s boldness and defiance. Pier is even more dismayed when his father can’t afford to pay his school fees. After wealthy Lieven agrees to finance their father’s new cannon design in exchange for Stance’s hand in marriage, Stance is resigned to her fate only so long; inspired by a young woman she saw moving through the world as a man, she eventually escapes into Napoleon’s army. A story alternating between Stance’s and Pier’s perspectives follows Stance’s life as a soldier—everyone assumes she’s a man—and Pier’s journey with Lieven’s shady business associate, Dupont, to find her—they assume she’s among the women who follow the troops. Naïve, trusting Pier is determined to find his sister to secure his future at school, and determined to prove himself to his father by delivering the cannon plans to Napoleon. Fierce, secretive Stance is learning what it means to be a comrade, and to love another woman. But neither knows what it means to go to war. This rousing read blends humor and pathos, high adventure and complex character development in a richly satisfying tale about siblings and family, the bonds among soldiers and the brutality of war, and a young woman determined to live life on her own terms. ©2022 Cooperative Children’s Book Center