The Dark Matter of Mona Starr

Abrams/Amulet. Apr. 2020. 192p. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9781419734236; pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781419742002.
Gr 7 Up–The “creative oddball” in a science-loving family, Mona uses astrophysics-inspired metaphors to understand her mental illness—depression is like a cloud of dark matter surrounding her, or a black hole collapsing in on itself. The Matter, as she calls it, keeps the teen from connecting with others, and sometimes it makes her physically sick. Therapy, together with her art, her writing, and a few determined friends, shows Mona that her most difficult moments can, with effort, become her greatest strengths. The realistic, grayscale art is evocative in its simplicity, with detailed expressions adding depth and occasional bursts of bright yellow turning Mona’s black holes into exploding stars as she gains self-worth. An inspired, empathetic storyteller, Gulledge (Page by Paige; Will & Whit) draws from her own experiences using art as an outlet for mental health issues. Though she never flinches from depicting the anguish of depression, she instills readers with hope, too, through a self-care plan and chapter headings that also offer advice (“Notice Your Patterns,” “Draw It Out,” “Break Your Cycles”).
VERDICT This immersive portrayal of a sensitive teen learning to live with mental illness will earn nods of recognition from readers coping with anxiety or depression but will also resonate with young people facing any fear.

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