The Dark Matter of Mona Starr
Sometimes, the world is too much for Mona Starr. She’s sweet, geeky, and creative, but it’s hard for her to make friends and connect with other people. She’s like a lot of sensitive teenagers—but in the hands of graphic novelist Laura Lee Gulledge, Mona’s struggle with depression takes on a vivid, concrete form. Mona calls it her Matter. The Matter gets everywhere, telling Mona she’s not good enough, and that everyone around her wishes she would go away. But through therapy, art, writing, and the persistence of a few good friends, Mona starts to understand her Matter, and how she—and readers—can turn their fears into strengths. Heartfelt, emotionally vulnerable, and visually stunning, The Dark Matter of Mona Starr is a story that takes the inner life of a teenager seriously, while giving readers a new way to look at the universal quest for meaning and connection.
As someone who was once a teenager dealing with depression, I found Mona's story to be beautifully authentic. Gulledge captures the intense emotions, the awkwardness, and the feelings of fear and uncertainty perfectly. Mona's story demonstrates the conflict of wanting to hide and isolate, both out of a fear of the world and out of hate for yourself, with the desire to be part of something, to form connections and make a difference. Her journey is never easy or simple or even a linear line of progression. Using tools she's learned in therapy, she starts learning to recognize symptoms and the means of fighting them, and perhaps most importantly, not giving up even when you have bad days that make progress seem impossible.
The illustrations weren't always a good fit for me. The teens looked much older than their ages, sometimes making it hard to tell the difference between a teacher and a classmate. The yellow highlights were an interesting clash with the black, though it fit the outer space/matter theme perfectly. The illustrations that took my breath away were the ones where Mona is really expressing what it's like in her head or body, like when she's building an imaginary circle of bricks stacked around her or when she's being pulled down in an ocean of triggers with helper floats above her.
Overall, THE DARK MATTER OF MONA STARR is a beautiful graphic novel about being a teen, living with depression, and finding the right tools to stay mentally healthy.