Book Review: The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky

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Review by Katrina Ortega

DESCRIPTION: New girl Rachel Chavez is eager to make a fresh start at Manchester Prep. But as one of the few scholarship kids, Rachel struggles to fit in, and when she gets caught up in a prank gone awry, she ends up with more enemies than friends.

To her surprise, however, the prank attracts the attention of the Mary Shelley Club, a secret club of students with one objective: come up with the scariest prank to orchestrate real fear. But as the pranks escalate, the competition turns cutthroat and takes on a life of its own.

When the tables are turned and someone targets the club itself, Rachel must track down the real-life monster in their midst . . . even if it means finally confronting the dark secrets from her past.

MY TWO CENTS: Last year was a good one for YA thriller and horror novels, but The Mary Shelley Club really stands out as exceptional in their midst. 

First, we’re presented with a solid plot that is very action driven, urging readers to race through this thriller. Goldy Moldavsky pulls the reader in with a plot line that is unique and riveting, keeping us guessing until the very, very end. The main character, Rachel Chavez, avidly watches horror films as a coping mechanism after suffering a traumatic event while at home alone on Long Island. After the event, she and her mom move to Brooklyn to give her a fresh start. In New York City, as an outsider at her new prestigious Manhattan school, Rachel finds herself without an ally — until the pranks begin. Once she’s falsely accused of pranking the most popular girl in school, Rachel finds a group of potential friends in a very unexpected way. This group, who call themselves the Mary Shelley Club, vie against each other to see who can come up with (and implement) the scariest prank, one which will incite real fear. 

It’s very easy to root for Rachel, even though her decisions might seem interesting, or even strange, given her past trauma. You want her to belong to a group that cares about her (though whether TMSC does that or not is debatable); you want to see her come to terms with her trauma (though, again, whether her horror fixation and TMSC do that is not immediately evident). Moldavsky is so good at writing horror, though, that it’s hard not to fall into the traps that horror movies often set up for their protagonists. The cast of characters emphasizes how hard it is to trust our instincts as readers. The four club members, including Rachel, are all mysterious in their own ways. 

I’m not a big fan of reading about pranks, as they often make me exceedingly uncomfortable. However, Moldovsky weaves them in such an integral way into the plot that they do just what good horror should do — make the reader terribly uneasy while making it impossible to look away. With a cast of characters that we cannot quite trust doing awful things to the people around them, readers will fly through this book wondering with a growing sense of foreboding, worried that Rachel is in mounting danger, unsure if she’s going to make it out without becoming a victim herself. The changes in point of view during the pranks also jars the reader with a sense of the unknown; after becoming comfortable with Rachel’s point of view, the flow is thrown into confusion with the sudden introduction of a new narrator. It hammers home the awareness of something awry, but it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly what. Once the reader is sure that they know who to look to for safety, the twist hits. 

The Mary Shelley Club is a truly thrilling read, full of terrifying moments, untrustworthy characters, and tons of horror movie trivia. It’s perfect for any readers who are looking for some hair-raising pranks and a twist like you’ve never seen before.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Goldy Moldavsky was born in Lima, Peru, and grew up in Brooklyn, where she still lives. Her novels include the New York Times bestseller, KILL THE BOY BAND, NO GOOD DEED (Scholastic), and THE MARY SHELLEY CLUB (Henry Holt). Her books have appeared on numerous Best-Books lists and have been translated to other languages. Her love of 80s movies, 90s boy bands, and horror flicks hugely influences her work.

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The paperback of THE MARY SHELLEY CLUB releases 8/30/22. Goldy’s newest book, LORD OF THE FLY FEST also releases on 8/30/22. Here’s the amazing cover:

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Katrina Ortega (M.L.I.S.) is the manager of the New York Public Library’s College and Career Pathways program. Originally from El Paso, Texas, she has lived in New York City for six years. She is a strong advocate of continuing education (in all of its forms) and is very interested in learning new ways that public libraries can provide higher education to all. She is also very interested in working with non-traditional communities in the library, particularly incarcerated and homeless populations. While pursuing her own higher education, she received two Bachelors of Arts degrees (in English and in History), a Masters of Arts in English, and a Masters of Library and Information Sciences. Katrina loves reading most anything, but particularly loves literary fiction, YA novels, and any type of graphic novel or comic. In her free time, if she’s not reading, Katrina loves to walk around New York, looking for good places to eat

Book Review: The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

Reviewed by Elena Foulis

26594801DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK:

Things/People Margot Hates:
Mami, for destroying her social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
The supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts. With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal. Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

MY TWO CENTS: It is no surprise that life, for a teenage girl, is complicated: trying to fit in, finding purpose, inspiration, friends, and dealing with family dynamics. Add to all of this, growing up bicultural! We meet Margot Sanchez, our Puerto Rican protagonist, spending the summer working at her father’s bodega in the Bronx, as punishment for using her father’s credit card without his permission. We quickly find out about Margot’s family dynamics; her family sent her to a prep school to give her a better education and a brighter future—for herself and the family. Her brother, Junior, is a college drop-out who now works in Papi’s bodega and is expected to take over the business in the future. Both Papi and Mami want the best for their children and operate under traditional Latinx gender values that allow Junior to easily occupy the public space, drink, smoke, and be sexually active, while Margot cannot.

Margot’s understanding of her own place in society is complicated by her parents’ decision to send her to a prep school. She quickly begins to change her look, part of her identity, and adopt those of Camille and Serena—white, rich classmates who often treat Margot as a project by giving her fashion tips, relationship advice, and suggesting that it was perfectly fine to “borrow” her father’s credit card to shop for clothes that were clearly beyond her family’s budget.

In The Education of Margot Sanchez, Rivera tackles issues of peer pressure, family expectations, gender bias, and community. While Margot has several people in her life who are constantly suggesting what she should look like, how she should act, and what she should do, Moises, a local community activist, and Elizabeth, her childhood friend, are the people that make her face her own insecurities, question her sense of belonging, and deal with her constant desire to fit in with her prep school values. Rivera walks us through Margot’s summer of “real” life education, full of lies, sex, and betrayal.

Although the novel hints at a romance between Moises and Margot, their interaction is one that helps her grow, accept herself, and understand how her community is being negatively impacted by gentrification and big corporations moving in; in fact, even her own family business is feeling the change. Throughout the story, Margot learns about her family’s shortcomings and how unhealthy family traditions and cultural norms can push each of them to make wrong choices.

As I was reading this book, I could almost hear my teenage daughters say, “Get over it, Margot! Quit listening to Camille and Serena!” Because Margot, quite frankly, is annoyingly desperate for their approval. Yet, we also see that Margot is trying not to be an outcast at her new school and does anything to be accepted by the popular girls, including stealing. Rivera helps us see that teenagers, although subject to peer pressure, also have the capacity to change, re-invent themselves, ask for forgiveness and restore relationships.

TEACHING TIPS: The Education of Margot Sanchez can be used to teach about public vs private education, formal education vs life/street education, and, although minimal, the values of different Latinx families.  It is also an opportunity to talk about family relationships, love, friendship, and gentrification—this last topic is a current trend, happening in many mid-size to large cities across the United States. Who experiences gentrification? Are “clean up” the neighborhood projects always negative or positive? How can people who face gentrification organize? What communities typically experience gentrification? What minority groups? Only minority groups? Research on these topics can add value to class discussion and can help further understand this present day issue affecting our communities.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about The Education of Margot Sanchez, check your local public library, your local bookstore or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Hi-res image. Photo by Julian Sambrano Jr. 

Photo by Julian Sambrano Jr.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): Lilliam Rivera is an award-winning writer and author of The Education of Margot Sanchez, a contemporary young adult novel forthcoming from Simon & Schuster on February 21, 2017. She is a 2016 Pushcart Prize winner and a 2015 Clarion alumni with a Leonard Pung Memorial Scholarship. She has been awarded fellowships from PEN Center USA, A Room Of Her Own Foundation, and received a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. Her short story “Death Defiant Bomba” received honorable mention in Bellevue Literary Review’s 2014 Goldenberg Prize for Fiction, selected by author Nathan Englander. Lilliam was also a finalist for AWP’s 2014 WC&C Scholarship Competition.

 

headshot2016ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Elena Foulis has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies from the University of Arkansas. Her research and teaching interests include U.S. Latina/o literature, and Digital Oral History. She is currently working on a digital oral history collection about Latin@s in Ohio, which has been published as an eBook titled, Latin@ Stories Across Ohio.