Review: Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein

Linda Bailey
Tundra Books, 2018

 “Here is Mary. She’s a dreamer.” So begins this glorious elementary-level biography of Mary Shelley. Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein is a delightful book that tells the story of Mary Shelley in a way that’s relatable for young people, emphasizing Mary’s youth, her difficult relationship with her family, and how receptive she is to the world around her. Linda Bailey’s prose is lilting, spacious: it makes room for readers and invites us to join the story. “How could a girl like [Mary] come up with such a story?” she asks rhetorically. “But you may know.”

Júlia Sardà‘s illustration style perfectly suits the story of the dreamy, sometimes troubled Mary Shelley and her creative spirit. The pictures are dark and broody, full of spooky shapes and gothic imagery. The backgrounds are muted greys, browns, and black, while bright but intense images appear in the foreground. The whole package is very appealing and apt.

Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein makes a fine complement to Bloom (Kyo Maclear’s 2018 book about Modernist fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli), which also profiles a creative and “difficult” young woman. Both books reassure kids — especially girls — that it’s OK to see the world in ways that others don’t. As we move through a turbulent period in our culture, books like these offer a poised and forthright strategy for helping readers to develop confidence, resilience, and determination and to meet the future with strength and security.

Timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the publication of Shelley’s novel, Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein is an outstanding example of the thoughtful, beautiful nonfiction picture books being published today. It is sure to inspire would-be writers and other imaginative minds. I heartily recommend this book for any library, public or personal — adult readers will enjoy it, too!

 

This review was originally published in Resource Links, October 2018.

 

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Uncertain about the androgynous mind

“Why do you think I won’t like it?” a friend asked after I described a book I had read and liked but said he wouldn’t enjoy. I have been reaching for an answer, because simply saying It’s a feeling I have is insufficient. But Virginia Woolf, whose writing I adore, has provided a reason:

 This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room. A scene in a battle-field is more important than a scene in a shop …. (67)

That. The authorship of a book and the subject of a book still influence how readers position ourselves relative to the book. Many readers — even open-minded readers of “better” literature — want to read the book about the metaphorical or actual battle-field because they believe it will be more important, more worthwhile, than a woman’s book about interior matters.

Woolf made her comments in 1928, but the sentiment still applies. Look at whose books are reviewed, whose books win major prizes. Look at how books by women writers tend to be handled when they are reviewed. Whether we acknowledge the fact or not, books by women are perceived to be less serious, less important, than books by men. This perception troubles me deeply. It’s not a perception I share.

It is necessary, as Woolf says elsewhere in A Room of One’s Own, to write “as a woman who has forgotten that she is a woman, so that her pages [are] full of that curious sexual quality which comes only when sex is unconscious of itself” (84). I’m not sure I agree with Woolf on this point, but do feel that books by women may be different from those by men — and by no means less for that difference.

Source: Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (London: Penguin Classics, 1993).