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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Mary's Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created FRANKENSTEIN, written and illustrated by Lita Judge. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. 2018. $28.99 ages 14 and up



There is a special curse
reserved for girls
who dare to run away
without a wedding ring."

What a glorious, and heartbreaking, introduction to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley this is! It is a departure for Lita Judge from her much admired picture books. For five years Ms. Judge has researched and crafted a brilliant novel in verse about a teenage girl living in 19th century England. What was it in her life that led her to write the fascinating story of Frankenstein, first of its kind and a book that remains popular even today?

Written in first person, readers follow the events and experiences that fueled Mary's imagination and gave her inspiration to write. Working diligently through considerable sources, Ms. Judge follows  Mary from 1812 through to the publication of her first book in 1817, at a time when she could not even be named author because of gender bias. It is a harrowing journey.

Mary, at 16, is ousted from the family home for her relationship with Percy Bysshe Shelley. She is a teenager, deeply in love at first sight, and pregnant with his child. Their relationship does not sit well with the mores of society, and the two are plagued by poverty, grief, and misfortune.

"Father promised
freedom, love, equality
for women.

But for me, it seems,
he has locked the door
to any future
beyond selling books."

The many struggles, untimely deaths, Shelley's dalliances with other women, his cruelty and mental illness are woven though Mary's story and help readers understand how such a young woman could write her most celebrated work. Knowing  more about the times she was living in helps to explain why she remained in that relationship ... she had few options, and she loved him.

Written in nine sections, paralleling  the nine months it took to 'give birth' to Frankenstein, the book is illustrated using a combination of pencil, watercolor, ink and digital techniques. The realistic black-and-white images evoke all of the emotions felt as Mary lived her life - fear, sadness, love, passion, anger, agonizing grief. Realistic and innovative, it will attract readers with its exceptional design, and distinct format.

The introduction, the prologue and epilogue (written in Frankenstein's voice), further notes about Mary and her times, an author's note, concise notes on each of the characters and a list of the books they were reading at the time, source notes and a bibliography speak to the dedication Ms. Judge had for her research and this remarkable story.

I will leave the final words to her; they are taken from an interview with Julie Donaldson:

"By using free verse and full-bleed art, this is not just a novel in verse or a graphic novel. It is part biography, part visual fantasy, and part feminist allegory. I also wanted readers to emotionally connect with this remarkable young woman. I thought poems paired with art could accomplish this best."                                                                

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