~Review by Amanda Smith
Go with the Flow (First Second, 2020) is written and illustrated by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann, co-creators of the online comic series The Mean Magenta and is the book I wish I had when I was a teen.
Brit, Sasha, Christine and Abby are four sophomore friends, who share laughs, rides, cookies and quiet conversations about their struggles with their periods. These four girls could not be more different in ethnicity, body types, personalities, and menstrual experiences, which makes this book super relatable to its YA audience. (No one-note, perfect, fictional girls here!) Upbeat Abby, fierce defender of women’s rights, decides to address the lack of feminine products in their school’s bathrooms after Sasha has a period emergency. Her passion and determination to be heard leads to hurt feelings, teetering friendships, and important lessons about listening. Brit deals with excruciating cramps that forces her to miss several days of school per month. She has to face well-meaning but clueless male teachers, and experiences anxiety about what might be wrong with her. Go with the Flow also addresses other teenage topics such as boys (the nice ones and the “fart bags”), sexual identity, generational and cultural gaps, activism, and kindness, without ever being preachy.
This YA graphic novel, filled with interesting facts throughout and containing oodles of relevant backmatter, is geared towards a more mature audience. However, it is a must-read, helping teens feel more comfortable about their changing bodies, and opening their eyes to what peers might be experiencing. Readers will recognize themselves within these pages, and all the characters will inspire them to be their best selves.
Bravo for bravery! Lily and Karen unabashedly tackle a subject that has been dubbed as “inappropriate” and “gross” for generations. In Abby’s words “you know, the patriarchy, and all that (barf)”. They deliver a plot focused on the menstrual cycle with lots of heart and tons of humor. They give the reader relatable characters, who feel as real as flesh-and-blood friends. They sprinkle thought-provoking ideas and acts of kindness throughout, educating and arming their readers with knowledge, courage, and hope. If you are feeling hesitant about your own work in progress with “taboo” themes, study Go With the Flow for a dose of daring.
Browse the original Mean Magenta comics here: themeanmagenta.com/
Learn more about Karen at www.karenschneemann.com/
To learn more about Lily, visit lilywilliamsart.com/
Review by Francine Puckly
At the suggestion of my daughter, I picked up a copy of Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse Trilogy: The Winner’s Curse (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), The Winner’s Crime (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015) and The Winner’s Kiss (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016). As I was neck deep in revision for a dual-point-of-view novel, my daughter thought The Winner’s Curse might act as a mentor text for how the author masterfully handles two points of view. And while Rutkoski does a phenomenal job with POV, she offers so much more for readers and writers alike.
At the story’s opening, our first protagonist Kestrel and her best friend Jess end up at the slave market quite by mistake. But as a handsome and defiant slave Arin (our second protagonist) is being auctioned, Kestrel bids and purchases him for an unseemly amount of money. Kestrel brings Arin back to her father’s estate where he is put to work as a blacksmith. After a short time, Kestrel chooses him as her escort into town and their relationship shifts from one of ownership and servitude into one of respect and the hint of friendship. It eventually blossoms into romance. But the star-crossed lovers are pitted against each other as Arin leads the slave rebellion and uprising against the army Kestrel’s father commands. Over the second and third books, a complicated relationship between Arin and Kestrel twists and turns with an even more complicated war between Arin’s enslaved people and Kestrel’s people who have dominated them for over a decade. Readers are exposed to brutal battles, political intrigue, relationships and their corresponding power shifts, and the issue of freedom and its costs.
The Winner’s Curse Trilogy is definitely worth a closer look by anyone hoping to study superb plotting, backstory, and slow-burn romance development, as well as distinct points of view.
~ 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/
Review by Annie Cronin Romano
In THE HIDDEN MEMORY OF OBJECTS, Danielle Mages Amato’s debut young adult novel, fifteen-year-old Megan Brown’s brother has just died, supposedly from a drug overdose. Megan is confused and angry, insisting the Tyler she knew never would have taken his own life, let alone used drugs. When the police start digging further into the circumstances surrounding Tyler’s death, Megan sees the memory of the brother she adored being defaced before her eyes. A talented collage artist, she turns to Tyler’s possessions to find comfort. In the process, she discovers she has an ability to “see” the memories held in those objects. It is a talent that causes Megan much upheaval and pain—literally—and takes her and two friends, Eric and Nathan, on a journey which generates more questions than answers about her brother’s life.
Megan’s devotion to the brother she loved clashes abruptly with the betrayal she feels as she uncovers a side of her brother she never knew existed. In her attempt to makes sense of her newfound visions, Megan enlists the assistance of an artifact historian, Dr. Brightman, who specializes in "murderabilia"—and may have a few secrets of his own. As she seeks the truth about Tyler’s death, Megan learns there is far more to people than can be seen on the surface, even those she thought she knew the best.
THE HIDDEN MEMORY OF OBJECTS, a contemporary young adult novel with a dose of paranormal, grabbed me from chapter one. Megan was a believable, likeable character, and her relationships with Eric, a close classmate, and Nathan, a friend of her brother’s whom she doesn’t recall meeting, add nice dimension to the plot. THE HIDDEN MEMORY OF OBJECTS blends family bonds, mystery, a touch of romance, betrayal, corruption, paranormal abilities, and history into an engaging, multifaceted journey. This beautifully written story kept me turning the pages long after I should have turned out the lights!
Amato’s character development is strong, as she skillfully uses her characters' dialogue and actions to build their personalities for the reader. There is no info dumping here. She delves into the complex emotions that can arise with the tragic, unexpected loss of a loved one and portrays them in a believable manner throughout the story. Contemporary and paranormal genres are blended seamlessly, and every scene and character contribute to the movement of the tightly woven narrative.
For more information on Danielle Mages Amato’s work, visit her website at www.daniellemagesamato.com.
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.
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