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Young Adult Book Review – Your Plantation Prom is Not Okay

 

YOUR PLANTATION PROM IS NOT OKAY

Written by Kelly McWilliams

(Little, Brown BYR; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

 

Your Plantation Prom is Not Okay cover

Starred ReviewBulletin of the Center for Children’s Books  

 

High school senior Harriet Douglass has grown up on the Westwood Plantation in Louisiana.  Her parents spent years converting the former plantation into a museum that tells the stories of generations of enslaved people who lived and suffered there. Although Harriet’s mother succumbed to cancer, Harriet and her father continue to maintain the plantation and provide educational programs to help visitors gain insight into America’s painful history with slavery and race.

Nearby Belle Grove Plantation has just been purchased by soap opera actress Claudia Hartwell and her social media influencer daughter, Layla. Claudia’s plans are to turn Belle Grove into a romantic venue for weddings and other events, completely disregarding the horrific history behind the plantations. Harriet is angry and disgusted by the attempt to romanticize history at the expense of those who toiled and suffered on them.

Layla and Harriet first meet at school when Layla defends Harriet from a white teacher’s microaggressions. Harriet is surprised by Layla’s awareness of the subtle discrimination and cautiously begins a tentative friendship. When Layla comes up with a plan to publicly pressure Claudia into canceling a celebrity wedding at Belle Grove, Harriet agrees to assist. The plan, using social media, is successful in shaming Claudia, but fails to stop the wedding. And lands both girls in trouble. Later, when the school decides to hold its prom at Belle Grove, Harriet feels betrayed when Layla, desperate for her mother’s attention, refuses to help. Harriet turns to her old friend, now boyfriend, Dawn, who uses his film and social media skills to help Harriet strip away plantation romanticism and tell the real story of what happened in the lives of the enslaved.

Harriet, tough but vulnerable, struggles with grief and mental health issues stemming from her traumatic final meeting with her mother. Her PTSD includes rage and subsequent blackouts. Fearful she could hurt someone, she has turned away from many of her friends. Through counseling, Harriet learns to control her rage and begins to realize that her old friends can be valuable allies in her campaign to end romanticizing plantation life through the stories of the enslaved.

In Your Plantation Prom is Not Okay, Kelly McWilliams has written a powerful and wide-ranging book that not only explores the complex issues stemming from systemic racism but sympathetically and realistically treats grief and mental health.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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Young Adult Novel – Dear Medusa

 

DEAR MEDUSA

 by Olivia A. Cole

(Labyrinth Road; $18.99, Ages 14+)

Dear Medusa cover of mc teen Alicia

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

 

Olivia A. Cole’s YA novel in verse, Dear Medusa, shows what it’s like to be made into a monster when, in fact, you’re the victim—just as Medusa was. Sixteen-year-old Alicia Rivers dreads school where she’s branded the slut because she hooks up with random guys after being sexually abused by a popular teacher. This secret burns her up since she has no one to turn to: she’s quit the track team, her BFF dumped her, and her family is too self-involved. Avoiding where it happened leads to cutting classes which spirals into detention and thoughts of staying forever at a dead-end job; there doesn’t seem to be a way out.

Abuse is a tough subject to navigate but Cole captures raw, realistic feelings and offsets them with the beauty of hope as Alicia finds new friends and maybe even a girlfriend. Many issues are brought to mind, such as how we’re so connected yet can also feel hopelessly lonely, or how women sometimes tear one another down, then at other times choose to stand together.

This book examines what it’s like to be judged by how we dress or act. In the section titled, “Wolves love bus stops,” Alicia remembers what she was wearing the first time she took the bus alone and how men reacted: “Standing by the telephone pole that day, / staring at my phone, / I transformed without knowing. / Girl into rabbit, soft furred thing with belly / exposed, ripe for fangs.” Ultimately, it’s about accepting ourselves, rather than letting other people’s perceptions turn us to stone.

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Young Adult Graphic Novel – The Dark Matter of Mona Starr

THE DARK MATTER OF MONA STARR

Written and illustrated by Laura Lee Gulledge

(Amulet Books; $22.99, Ages 12+)

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr cvr


Starred Review – School Library Journal

 

Laura Lee Gulledge’s YA graphic novel, The Dark Matter of Mona Starr, opens with Mona Starr’s best friend, Nash, moving to Hawaii. Mona must now tackle high school alone and, though her family cares about her, she feels like the “creative oddball” in their midst. Mona struggles with depression, calling it the “Matter.” Through the help of a therapist and a new girl, Hailey, Mona begins to notice what starts her spiraling downward and how to catch herself before it becomes all-consuming. Chapter titles such as “Notice Your Patterns,” “Break Your Cycles,” and “Replace What You Can’t Erase” reinforce the steps Mona needs to take to cope.

 

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Illustrations and text from The Dark Matter of Mona Starr © 2020 Laura Lee Gulledge. Used with permission from Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS.

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The book presents depression in a realistic manner, showing the back-and-forth struggle that isn’t solved but, rather, managed. While the insightful text tells a compelling story, Gulledge’s art is a showstopper. In a scene where Mona’s overwhelmed by too many choices, her Matter has a hold of her arms and legs, pulling her to the edges of the page while whispering such things as, “You have nothing to offer” and “You are not good for ANYTHING,” inciting our universal search for meaning in our lives.

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Illustrations and text from The Dark Matter of Mona Starr © 2020 Laura Lee Gulledge. Used with permission from Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS.

 

I’m blown away by the depth in the images (the art is black and white with hints of yellow) throughout the book. After Nash encourages Mona to write about her confusion, the full-page illustration features Mona as a shadowy outline with little Monas picking away (literally) at her brain, digging deep until she reaches her deepest thoughts. Eventually, with the help of friends, therapy, her art, and writing, Mona finds her way toward a hopeful future.

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Illustrations and text from The Dark Matter of Mona Starr © 2020 Laura Lee Gulledge. Used with permission from Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS.

 

Make this powerful book an addition to your high school’s library and provide a helping hand to someone battling with their own dark matter. The insightful and heartfelt advice is based in part on Gulledge’s own struggles.

 

• Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 

Click here to order a copy of The Dark Matter of Mona Starr or visit your local indie bookstore.
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Recommended Reads for the Week of 9/28/20

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