I try not to read too much about books before I set out to review them, particularly because I want to see how much comes through in the writing itself. In the case of Frances and the Monster, I'm especially glad I made that choice! Frances is the daughter of two renowned scientists living in Europe at the end of the 1930s, and the threat of war is on the horizon. However, Frances is managing her own struggles, and this story focuses on her path to discover both the wider world and the truth of her inner self. Refe Tuma's writing is excellent, and it does a superb job of placing readers exactly where they need to be. If you are a fan of the work of Mary Shelley, this is a perfect Middle Grade pick for you. Please see my full review below!
It has been seven long years since eleven-year-old Frances has been allowed outside the confines of the manor she calls home. Because her parents are two renowned scientists, they are often asked to speak and present all over Europe–but Frances is never allowed to join them. So, when Frances' father mentions a surprise in store for her, Frances plans for a great adventure, only to find she is being left home once again. Frances is not one to wallow, however, and she decides to utilize the many resources available to her in her parents' absence. One particularly noteworthy decision places Frances on a journey she will never forget, during which she discovers truths about herself that will forever alter her own future.
This memorable middle grade adventure is a loving homage to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. From character names to much of the plot itself, the Victorian horror and science present in Shelley's novel make their way into this story that is geared toward a younger audience. Science, adventure, friendship, and humanity find their way into the narrative, building a complex world that is peppered with both humor and a bit of danger. Together, these varied elements create a vivid whole that is both compelling and emotionally rich, serving as a multifaceted escape through the eyes of characters placed nearly a century in the past.
Frances and her companions are surrounded by science and technology that is well ahead of their time frame of the late 1930s. And though war is mentioned within the context of interactions within the story, it is not a primary focus of this narrative. Instead, the story focuses more on Frances and her friend Luca, who are learning to both survive and thrive when their own parents are not as present as others might be. Additionally, Frances is often referred to as a boy, and she spends much of the story discerning how she truly identifies within the scope of the rigid gender expectations of the time in which she lives. Seasoned readers who are familiar with Mary Shelley's work will appreciate the parallels that have been incorporated into Frances' story, and newer readers will likewise enjoy this accessible introduction to a hallmark of English literature. Frances and the Monster is a thought-provoking and entertaining addition to libraries for middle grade readers.
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