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“Disturbed girls” save themselves (and one another)

The protagonists of these feminist YA novels do not let their “imperfections” stand in the way of taking action as they work to save themselves and, oftentimes, other young women.

Lita Judge’s verse novel Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein provides insight into the complex author of the gothic horror classic. Shelley was the daughter of famous literati; her mother died soon after childbirth and her father remarried a wicked stepmother who sent Mary away from home at age fourteen. Mary returned two years later and, scandalously, began an affair with Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Numerous monochromatic watercolor illustrations imbue the work with a gothic atmosphere of gloom, dread, and fate. (Roaring Brook, 14 years and up)

In Naondel (prequel to Finnish feminist fantasy Maresi), Maria Turtschaninoff chronicles the early lives of the founding sisters of the Red Abbey, an island “where women can work and learn side by side” and a refuge for girls who have been abused. Alternating narrators relate their stories of being abducted and raped by power-hungry villain Iskan. Turtschaninoff evokes colorful backstories and complex psyches, ultimately weaving these women’s relationships, personalities, and experiences into a potent, collaborative self-rescue. (Abrams/Amulet, 14 years and up)

At fourteen, Macy Cashmere, star of The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos, has lived out of her family’s car, seen her father jailed, and evaded child protective services after they “kidnapped” her brother. Blunt, opinionated Macy tells her story through electric-voiced, slang- (and swear-) laden entries in her “dictionary,” a journal in which she distills her chaotic life into alphabetically arranged vignettes. Macy’s aggressive resilience and her irrepressible passion for her loved ones ultimately prevail in this powerful debut. (Carolrhoda Lab, 14 years and up)

At the start of Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie, sixteen-year-old Vivian is a “nice girl” — she and her girlfriends roll their eyes and try to ignore the inappropriate, misogynistic behavior of the pampered football players and the male administrators who encourage them at their conservative Texas high school. One day Vivian cracks; channeling her rage, she pens and distributes an anonymous zine, Moxie, that addresses her school’s systemic misogyny directly. Mathieu keeps the pace brisk and the stakes climbing in this approachable, empowering story of modern teen activism. (Roaring Brook, 14 years and up)

From the March 2018 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She is a current member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee.

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