The title of this book Cautionary Tales for Excitable Girls (Scribner 2022) is exactly what is says: warning stories for adventurous females. In one sense it’s an old-fashioned expression but do not let that fool you! This collection of short stories by debut author Anne Casey-Hardy is bright and sparkling like a jewelled crown, but step too close and those gemstones are sharp and cutting.

When a new release has complimentary quotes from the likes of Charlotte Wood, Tony Birch, Laura Elvery, Wayne Marshall, Melissa Manning, Jane Rawson and Tegan Bennett Daylight gracing its cover, you know you’re in for something very special. These 18 stories are taut, contemporary, quick-witted and confronting, with a darkly black humour bubbling below the surface. Stories about girls in trouble, girls escaping trouble, girls causing trouble.

In Being the Mother, two teenage girls ‘borrow’ a baby for a day. There are two connected stories about a fateful New Year’s Eve party and what happened afterwards. There are ghost stories and fantasy tales and stories that deliberately refuse to be labelled – part dream, part rude reality, part sinister nightmare. Girls standing up for themselves. Girls being taken advantage of, and taking their revenge in the most unusual ways. The loyalty, jealousy, intimacy and courage of female friendships. Young women dealing with new jobs, unwanted male attention, the patriarchy, misogyny, prejudice, abusive families and unreliable friends. Characters inspired by myths and legends. Childhood friendships rekindled. Girls being industrious and ambitious and inventive. Girls you would not want to cross. Curious girls. Excitable girls. Girls that are as ethereal as mist, or as solid and immutable as the earth. Dangerous girls, and girls who are frightened. Girls who are relieved, determined, angry, mysterious, strong and powerful.

I heard Casey-Hardy read her short story In Disguise, Lying Low at an event recently and was blown away by the quality of the writing, the authenticity of the dialogue, the caustic humour, the poignancy, and by her reading itself, which only accentuated the meaning of the words. These are stories full of life and wonder, angst and fury, confusion and hope and risky escapades. With titles such as Literally Beside Myself, Starving in the Land of Plenty, When Bees Become Diamonds and Don’t Blink, this collection is a truly magnificent curation of finely crafted stories, each as real and eye-opening and thought-provoking as the next. The kind of stories that you want to read and reread; each containing layers of meaning and symbolism. And all so sharp and witty, so engaging and clever. Casey-Hardy is deep in the mind of an adolescent girl, a young woman … and she shows us how to see through their eyes. Whether the story is sad, satisfying, funny, bleak, disturbing, frightening or triumphant, each is remarkable and makes a statement about embracing life, facing danger, falling in love, surviving (or not), about unbreakable bonds and unfettered freedom. This author’s voice is utterly wise and yet also somehow innocent and vulnerable; she weaves the two states together to produce stories that will amaze and delight you. A fantastic collection.