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⭐️ UPDATE! ⭐️ Review: Medusa by Katherine Marsh

Y'all, I've updated my review of Medusa to share that Katherine Marsh will be joining me (and all of you!)  for the Bookelicious Middle Grade Book Club on July 9th! Registration for this event is FREE and there will be a recording, so reserve your spot today! That said, every month I create additional resources, (related to our book club pick) for participants. It's my hope that these resources will prove helpful to educators who spend their days connecting readers to the stories their hearts need most. While I'm still holding a few goodies up my sleeve, here's a preview of the Medusa related resources I will share during book club in July.


COLORING SHEET:

First, I created a coloring sheet to go along with Medusa! I've been thinking a lot lately about the ways that reading (and coloring!) can serve as stress reducers during a time when so many of us (kids included!) are experiencing a great deal of stress. In my heart of hearts, I'd like to think that this resource might entice colorers to pick up Katherine's book, while also giving those readers who have already fallen in love with it, a fun way to stay connected to the story, but... it's fine if readers (of all ages!) just have fun coloring it, too. You can access the free download here. Finally, special thanks to Lauren Mobley for providing me with feedback for this coloring sheet!


CONNECTIONS:

Next up, I also created a Connections style puzzle to go along with Medusa! As someone who plays the NYT Connections puzzle every day, I have the most fun creating these, y'all! I wrote about the process for creating book related Connections here. The post also includes a planning worksheet for kiddos to help them with the process of creating their own book related Connections puzzles. That said, a link to the puzzle for Medusa, along with the answer key can be found here.

Finally, please enjoy a special discount of 20% off Medusa (or other books of your choice) by visiting Bookelicious and using the code JENNIFERLAGARDE. Note: I do not make any money when you purchase books from Bookelicious, but I am delighted that you get to save some by using my discount code! HOWEVER, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that buying books from Bookelicious is the way we keep events (like our Middle Grade Book Club) free while also supporting the authors and illustrators who join us each month, so... I hope you'll think of your book purchases from Bookelicous as supporting a good cause!


Happy Reading!


 

REVIEW:

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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