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⭐️ Book Review: Medusa by Katherine Marsh

Confession time! I didn't go through a Greek mythology phase as a kid. I have a friend who proudly "doesn't read books with maps in the front," and I have to admit a similar aversion to allegorical adventures may be at the root of my detachment from the Greeks. I didn't become a fan of the fantasy genre until I was well into adulthood and, even then, my tastes tend to lean more towards the sci-fi end of that spectrum, preferring books with more magic than metaphor. Full disclosure: I still can't get through anything by Tolkien. I know, y'all. I know.

Of course, I've taught many young people, for whom Greek mythology represented a rich and fantastical escape into worlds and perils unmatched. Indeed, I was a middle school librarian during what Taylor Swift might call her Percy Jackson Era™️. And while I read all those books so that I could discuss them with kids, I never felt like Greek mythology was for people like me - which might be because Greek mythology really isn't for people like me! To say that the world in which these myths exists is especially unfair to women (and other marginalized communities) would be an understatement. I mean, let's be real, y'all. Ever deferential to their male counterparts, even the most powerful of Greek goddesses were no match for the patriarchy.

Enter Katherine Marsh's new feminist take on Greek mythology: Medusa - the first in a three part series that offers a contemporary spin on both the classic myths and how they center (white) male power. Spoiler alert: I'm in love with this book. But more on that later.

As the story opens, 7th grader Ava Baldwin is having trouble controlling, well... everything! Calling her "too intense," Ava's best friends have abandoned her for a more popular crowd. Her teachers constantly compare her to Jax - her older brother who seems to do everything perfectly. Even her unruly brown curls can't seem to do the one thing Ava's mother wants most: for Ava to remain in control and keep her emotions in check - even as the urge to use her voice grows harder and harder to ignore.

When Ava is finally pushed to her limit by an obnoxious classmate who uses his male privilege to undermine and embarrass her, Ava's outrage literally freezes him (briefly) in his tracks! And while everyone, including her parents, seems to think the incident is a seizure, Ava isn't so sure. Still, when her mother suddenly enrolls both Ava and Jax in the Accademia del Forte, (a boarding school in Italy that was founded by Zeus, Poseidon and Hades), Ava can't help but be relieved. After all, while she may have mixed feelings about leaving home, the chance for a "middle school do-over" seems too good to be true.

And at first, life at the Accademia del Forte is everything Ava could have hoped for. It doesn't take long for her to position herself as a top student. For the first time in their lives, teachers begin comparing Jax to her - instead of the other way around! Ava's knowledge and understanding of Greek mythology is not only praised, but she's chosen for special opportunities as a result. But more importantly, Ava quickly begins making new friends at the Accademia who find her intensity endearing and appreciate her for who she is.

Naturally, there's one wrinkle, though.

When students are asked to take a DNA test in order to determine which Greek gods they might be related to, it's revealed that they've all been chosen to attend the Accademia because they are, in fact, the descendants of Greek monsters. This revelation not only means that Ava's worst fear of being related to Medusa is true, and that she has inherited Medusa's power to turn men to stone, it also means that the true purpose of the school is to help Ava and her friends ignore their "monstrous" impulses, cultivate the more desirable traits exhibited by the Gods and, in the process, keep their mouths shut.

Desperate to fit in and do the right thing, Ava tries to comply with all of the Accademia's rules - even when they seem unjust or when the history taught by her teachers appears revisionist. However, when one of her friends is cruelly silenced, simply for asking questions, Ava begins to realize that doing the right thing sometimes requires breaking the rules - especially when those rules were created to benefit some while harming others. What follows is an epic adventure in which Ava and her friends must work together, and use their new found powers, to find out the truth about Medusa and the other, so called, "monsters."

Like the best Pixar movies, Katherine Marsh's Medusa, is full of layers. On one level, Medusa is an adventurous romp - full of cliff-hangers and moments of authentic (if not truly scary) peril. On another level, Medusa is a story of friendship that reminds its young readers that the best way to carry heavy things is to ask for help. And on still another level, this first installment in The Myth of Monster's series is an exploration of the patriarchal society that is not only perpetuated by the Greek myths, but that also remains a facet of modern life. I love the way Ava's story provides a jumping off point for girls (and boys!) to explore the ways women and girls are often taught to shrink their personalities, voices and even their bodies in order to fit into society's expectations. But perhaps the thing I love most about this book is that it provides an entry point into a version of Greek mythology where everyone is welcome.


ISBN: 9780063303744

Publisher: Clarion

Publication: February 20, 2024

Audience: Ava and her friends are in the 7th grade, making this book the perfect choice for grades 6+. However, I also think readers as young as 4th and 5th grade will love this book, too.


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