~Review by Amanda Smith
Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca is a touching novel in verse about Reha, a first-generation Indian American girl who comes to terms with living in two worlds. As an immigrant and mother of first-generation American children, this novel truly resonated with me. Even though our countries of origin are different, LaRocca touches on universal immigrant experiences such as missing extended family and always feeling a little different or other. But Red, White, and Whole isn’t just about the immigrant experience. It is a tender look at mother-daughter relationships, and it is a beautiful coming of age story as Reha faces the unimaginable: her mother's battle with Leukemia. LaRocca entwines Indian folklore into the narrative to add another layer to her poignant storytelling and character development. Subtle repetition of key phrases and the calculating use of “red” and “white” throughout the novel bind the individual poems together – and the result is synergy: a WHOLE that is greater than the sum of its parts.
LaRocca supports the main theme of "two worlds" with recurring images of the colors red and white, and how they relate to the parts of blood, as well as virtue and grief in Indian culture. Red, White and Whole is a study in repetition within a verse novel. LaRocca weaves threads and themes seamlessly throughout, often when the meaning of the phrases are altered by context or circumstances. The similarity of the words paired with the difference in context delivers a forceful emotional punch.
To learn more about Rajani, visit her website at www.rajanilarocca.com/
~ 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/
Young Adult Fiction
by Francine Puckly
Padma Venkatraman’s “A Time to Dance” is a young adult novel-in-verse which carries your heart to emotional highs and lows as you journey with a young Bharatanatyam dancer, Veda, through the joys and triumphs of her dance competition to the despair of a heart-wrenching physical setback and into the recovery of her dreams. Because the book is written as novel-in-verse, the author is able to impart the story through flashes of emotion, action and character, giving the reader a deep emotional link to each scene in very few words and lines. It is with these well-chosen words and sparse but conscious writing that Venkatraman carries the reader through the tale of holding and developing new goals and aspirations, as well as growing into a more conscious human being. Each chapter reads as its own beautiful poem, and these poems are threaded together into a captivating story of hope and renewal. I was eager to turn the pages, entranced by the characters and plot, but I also look forward to revisiting the book to savor each poem for its simplicity, beauty and poignancy.
For those of us who have little experience reading or writing novels-in-verse or who might be exploring different formats to express the stories we’re bringing to the page, Venkatraman’s novel is a wonderful study in how to use sparse, well-chosen words and create individual poems that lift and carry the reader through their very own emotional arcs, while at the same time pulling the reader poem-by-poem through a greater story arc of character, plot and emotion.
For more information on Venkatraman’s process in writing this bold cultural and spiritual book for teens, visit http://nancytandon.com/2014/11/11/a-time-to-dance-interview-with-author-padma-venkatraman/. And for three additional writers’ perspectives writing-in-verse, check out http://www.axonjournal.com.au/issue-4/writing-young-adult-verse-novel.
Our favorite mentor texts to guide your writing and revisions.