Book Review: The First Book of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz

Safely secluded from the Outside world by a massive stone wall, Calamity Leek and her 12 sisters spend their days tending roses in the Garden, embroidering petal-stuffed cushions, and learning the skills they will use when they are old enough to go to war against the demonmales. In the place of textbooks, their dedicated, deformed caregiver Aunty instructs them from her multi-volume Appendix, a document made up of a Showreel; beauty rituals; and bizarre myths about the sisters’ purpose, life Outside, and the nature of the world. (Those cushions they sew? They’ll be used to cover the sky lid to protect the girls from the damaging heat of the Sun. And why are the cushions stuffed with petals? To perfume the sky so they won’t be poisoned by His polluting farts, naturally.) But when one sister seeks out the truth about what lies beyond the Wall, she sows the seeds of doubt that will topple their orderly lives.

I’ve been slumping pretty hard for the last six months, unable to muster much enthusiasm for the books on my shelf. I’ve been trying to #readmyowndamnbooks, but when I came across this novel in my work at the library, it seemed like just the right amount of weirdness to capture and keep my attention. It didn’t let me down! The First Book of Calamity Leek alternately made me laugh and gave me chills. I loved the way Lichtarowicz slowly, subtly reveals details in the observations of a girl who has no idea of the significance of what she’s reporting.

Delightfully strange and deeply unsettling, The First Book of Calamity Leek calls into question the stories we tell ourselves — and our stubborn adherence to these stories even as their holes are revealed. It’s a book that combines The Handmaid’s Tale‘s twisted version of female safety with The Beautiful Bureaucrat‘s inventive plays on language to fantastic effect. Like Our Endless Numbered Days, it asks more questions than it answers, making it a great book club pick.

Notable Quotes

“On the television, the demonmale was stepping up to seal the deal good and proper with poor Cinderella, or, how they say it so females should know to set off running, if they haven’t already started, Forever and ever OUR MEN. ” p 79-80

“Course, them demonmales shook their beards and laughed when Annie told them — which she was a total loonhead to do — about our Appendix. One of them said he had his own book with different stories in it about how everything started. The other one said the plain truth was the Sun was just a ball of fire, and we all grew out of fish, and hadn’t Annie heard that?” p  267

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: The First Book of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz

    • Probably? I don’t know much about age-appropriate content, but I don’t recall there being anything really explicit in this book. There are allusions to sex/sexual violence (as the reason men are evil), but nothing graphic.

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