MARY’S MONSTER: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelly Created FRANKENSTEIN by Lita Judge
~ Reviewed by Amanda Smith
Mary’s Monster tells the story of a young girl whose loving home is turned into an oppressive prison by a jealous step-mother. After two years’ exile to Scotland, where she finds love and acceptance, she is called back to London to help in her father’s bookstore. Her mundane home life is interrupted when she meets a charismatic poet. The poet, sixteen-year-old Mary, and her younger step-sister run away together and travel through Europe and eventually back to England.
Mary experiences beauty, freedom, and life. She sees the destruction of man and war. She meets unbearable challenges, heartache, and abuse. And through it all she fights circumstances, society, and mental illness for the right to live with, and love, her poet. Her struggles and darkest moments lead to the discovery of her own voice and her defining work.
Mary’s Monster is the tormenting story of a remarkable young woman. It is also the biography of Mary Shelly, author of the iconic Frankenstein, and wife to poet Percy Bysshe Shelly. Seeped in extensive research, Mary’s Monster leads the reader through the events and places that formed Mary Shelly and gave birth to Frankenstein.
Just as Mary Shelly invented the modern science fiction novel, Lita Judge shatters genre boundaries by bringing us a biography that reads like a YA novel, in free -verse, accompanied by magnificent, haunting illustrations. “Like a picture book, it is a dance between words and art, in which each medium takes a turn telling the story and the two become inseparable,” Judge explained.
Mary’s Monster would serve as an excellent companion text to any high school student studying Frankenstein, but the book is so much more than a biography and educational tool. It is a stirring story, transporting the reader to a different time, yet carrying themes (such as first love, struggles with parents, and mental health issues) with which most young adults can identify today.
Mary’s Monster is masterfully crafted in so many ways. The structure of the book is tight and purposeful, reflecting the multiple points of view of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. It is divided into nine parts, echoing the nine months it took Mary to write Frankenstein. Quotes by Percy Bysshe Shelly, Mary Wollstonecraft (Mary Shelly’s mother), and Mary herself introduce each part and lend to the authentic voice of the book. There is a mindfulness in every aspect of this book, including the placement of art.
In fact, the amazing interplay between art and text is something never before seen in a biographical novel. The artwork draws the reader in, accentuates the action and emotion in the verses, and adds atmosphere and tone, as well as symbolism. It is just as important a story telling device as the writing.
Lita Judge consistently, yet with subtlety, builds on themes central to Mary’s life and her creation of Frankenstein (such as rejection, love, death, women’s rights) throughout the book. With clever foreshadowing and striking word choice, she leads readers through Mary’s journey of self-discovery.
However, the most brilliant part of this book, is Judge’s decision to weave direct quotes from Mary Shelly’s journals, and from biographies written about her, into the verse. This is done seamlessly and adds authenticity to the voice (The reader may find the quotations when perusing the back-matter.)
Biographies, or the genre that Frankenstein belongs to, might not be every reader’s cup of tea. But the illustrations and human drama of Mary's Monster will compel the biography adverse, non-horror genre reader to grab this book. In doing so, readers will not only learn about Mary Shelly, her life and her challenges, but also about themselves. Mary’s Monster urges readers to reflect deeply on how the world has changed for young women. And the many ways it has not.
For more information on Lita Judge, visit her website at https://www.litajudge.net/
To learn more about her process in creating Mary’s Monster, and the significance of the art, read https://www.litajudge.net/mm_timeline/
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