Title: Crewel (Crewel World #1)
Author: Gennifer Albin
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Publication Date: October 16, 2012
Sixteen-year-old Adelice Lewys has always been special. When her parents discover her gift—the ability to weave the very fabric of reality—they train her to hide it. For good reason, they don’t want her to become a Spinster — one of the elite, beautiful, and deadly women who determine what people eat, where they live, how many children they have, and even when they die.
Thrust into the opulent Western Coventry, Adelice will be tried, tested and tempted as she navigates the deadly politics at play behind its walls. Now caught in a web of lies and forbidden romance, she must unravel the sinister truth behind her own unspeakable power. Her world is hanging by a thread, and Adelice, alone, can decide to save it — or destroy it.
Gennifer Albin’s 2012 debut was nothing short of fabulous. I think I can safely say there isn’t another YA dystopian novel out there quite like this one, and I hope no one tries to write one because no way could it hold a candle to Crewel. Crewel is a beautifully imagined story full of imagery as vibrant as the gorgeous cover, which I’m glad held a tale as amazing as the cover promises.
For me, the way Albin describes the patriarchal structure of Adelice’s world made her magical, creative story even more meaningful. Some who read this book may read about the treatment of women in Arras and think how horrible it is, how thankfully different from our world it is. But if you look closely, you realize that though Arras may seem unrealistically sexist and controlling, it’s not much different from the world we live in.
In Arras, makeup and cosmetics are presented as a sort of rite of passage. Each woman has assigned cosmetics to maintain their beauty to Arras’s standards. Though in real life women may not be told as blatantly as this that they must maintain their youthful beauty, it is made clear in the way women are presented in the media. Women who don’t conform to traditional grooming practices like wearing makeup or shaving their legs are regarded with scorn, as though they are not real women at all.
Early on in the book, we learn that Arras is gender segregated as well, to make it easier for women to uphold the purity standards set by the Guild. However, Adelice tells us her parents thought it was better for her to know (in what was apparently a little too much detail for our young heroine) what exactly the Guild was warning her against, so they taught her about the birds and the bees though it was forbidden. This attitude that abstinence education is the best way to prevent teen sex is definitely very relevant in today’s world and political climate.
While it’s clear that most girls in Arras don’t question what roles they will play, even some of the Spinsters, who are the most powerful women in Albin’s world, know the control men have of them. When Adelice and Maela first meet, Maela says something to her about how, living as Spinsters, they don’t have to serve the “ridiculous demands of men.” She paints a picture of weaving as a window to freedom and control, not seeing that though they may be creating, the Guild still controls them. Even at the Coventry there are men, because the Guild thinks a group made up entirely of women would be too dangerous. The idea that boys are encouraged to have group loyalties more than women is actually a common amongst gender studies, although I don’t know if it is believed to be something deliberately or subconsciously taught by parents/society at large.
Obviously, a major theme of this book is control. From the moment Adelice discovers her “gift” for weaving time with matter, people try to control her. Her parents train her to hide her gift, though it is a part of her, because they think they are protecting her. Though they train her carefully to be clumsy and artless, Adelice can’t hide her creativity; before she slipped at testing, she had hoped to become a teacher, one of the most creative professions a woman in Arras could have.
Adelice has even more creative ability than most of the Spinsters at the Coventry; she can weave without a loom, an ability only seen in Crewelers. Though she is still largely under control of the Guild, Adelice does have a bit more power than most of the other women, because her creativity is a threat to the Guild.
This idea of creativity as a revolutionary tool really spoke to me, and it’s one I certainly think would be valuable in real life. If you don’t see the world you want, sometimes the only thing you can do is create a new one.