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The Dark Matter of Mona Starr | Review

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr cover

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr
by Laura Lee Gulledge
Amulet Books, $14.99 (paperback), $22.99 (hardcover)
Ages 14 and up

Laura Lee Gulledge has never shied away from telling stories of young women artists struggling with difficult issues. In Will & Whit, it was grief and finding one’s community. In Page by Paige, it was loneliness in a new place. In The Dark Matter of Mona Starr, it’s depression. The result is a welcome addition to the growing list of graphic novels for young people suffering big challenges.

Mona has never had many friends, and her best just moved away. She’s seeing a therapist because she feels “Overwhelmed. Alone. Sad. The usual…. In the grand scheme of things, I’m just an insignificant speck in the universe.” Her family cares, but she’s the only creative person in a logical group.

She’s been asked to make a choice between working to feel better or not change anything and eventually fall apart. Since her depression can make her physically ill, she chooses to try. Volunteering makes her feel better. So does journaling, putting words to how she feels. Her therapist’s advice may give the reader some ideas, also.

Comics is the perfect medium for this story, as Mona’s feelings are illustrated for us as a black spiral, tendrils of darkness wrapping around her and keeping her isolated. It’s a direct presentation of her emotions, the “dark matter” that she struggles with. That Gulledge both shows and tells us what Mona is feeling means more ways for readers to interact with her ideas.

Beyond the artistic metaphor, Gulledge’s illustrations are full of detail, establishing the school and home settings in which Mona lives. Yet the author also isn’t afraid to create highly symbolic panels or pages, making it easy for the reader to understand what Mona is thinking and feeling. The occasional light yellow highlight draws attention to particularly significant moments or strong emotions.

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr creates sympathy in the reader. Mona has a lot already going for her, as she has what seems like a good support system and professional help. That she still has to fight for her mental health means maybe others aren’t alone in feeling similarly. When she most needs others is when she’s most likely to push them away; noticing this tendency is a major turning point for her improvement. When she is finally able to begin opening up, she learns others have similar struggles.

The chapter titles are advice, such as “Notice Your Patterns” or “It’s Not About You.” The book concludes with space to make one’s own self-care plan and an example of the author’s. The Dark Matter of Mona Starr is a thought-provoking book that can make readers feel better.

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Johanna About Johanna

Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics for over 20 years. She manages ComicsWorthReading.com, the longest-running independent review site online that covers all genres of comic books, graphic novels, and manga. She has an MA in popular culture, studying online fandom, and was previously, among many other things, webmaster for DC Comics. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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