Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Supergirl Mixtapes by Meagan Brothers

When 16-year-old Maria Costello’s father walks in on her slitting her wrists, he decides she might be better off staying with her mother in New York for awhile, and finally gives in to years of begging. Happily, Maria lives small-town South Carolina for the big city, but comes to learn her mother is not the solution to her problems.

At first, Maria is enchanted by New York and the bohemian scene she discovers with her mother, Victoria, and Travis, her mother’s twenty-something boyfriend. Within a week of Maria’s arrival, however, the group is evicted from their apartment due to lack of funds, and moved to an apartment in Brooklyn atop a strip club with the help of Victoria’s friend Nina Dowd. Nina becomes a key character in the novel, taking Maria under her wing as the teenager drops out of school and struggles to come to terms with her mother’s erratic behavior. When Victoria kicks Maria out of the house on Christmas Day, Maria seeks shelter with Nina, and discovers her mother is battling bigger demons that she could ever imagine.

Supergirl Mixtapes was an interesting read because it includes a lot of issues teenagers may
encounter as they progress through high school, including divorce, bullying, suicide, underage drinking, drug use, and sexuality. Maria often does not know how to deal with these issues, and her confusion may be comforting for teens who are grappling with the same problems in their own lives.

I suspect, however, that the novel’s vague references to the 1990s, the era in which the book is set, will go right over students’ heads. Brothers’ periodically mentions Kurt Cobain’s death, Beavis and Butthead, and cassette tapes, but spends more time developing the physical setting of the novel, New York, than she does the era. The distinction is odd, considering Brothers alludes to the era in her title and cover artwork. If there were more references to music or the era, I might recommend it for a music or history class, but it never really develops the scene.

The mixtapes play an important but small role in the story, representing female empowerment, as well as Maria’s own developing sense of self. By the second half of the story, the mixtapes have all but disappeared, and as a reader, I never felt that Maria fully realized her own power. I was frustrated to find she was more prone to running from problems than facing them head on. Brothers seemed to struggle to develop her characters, particularly Maria, as most lack depth or purpose. Students reading the novel will likely be frustrated by the incompleteness of the characters.

Nonetheless, Supergirl Mixtapes is an interesting story filled with themes, not least of all the complexity of the mother/daughter relationship, young girls may relate to, if not the characters. Female students in grades 9 and 10 would likely find this a thought-provoking read, but may struggle with the slow pace of the novel, as well as the rushed ending. My main hesitation in recommending it, however, would be some of the more mature themes, which may not be appropriate for all students.


Henry Buckner said...

I believe that Supergirl Mixtapes delivers on the themes that high students struggle with today but the fact that it is set in a era that is not familiar to students of today's generation might cost you their interest in reading it. The slow pace, quick ending, and lack of character development really makes me question whether I would teach this. But as teachers it is our job to relay potential outdated text to modern day form for our students. Overall I thought your review was well written.

Clarice Howard said...

I think that there is not enough done in high schools to educate students on bullying, suicide, underage drinking, drug use and sexuality. With this lack of education it seems that more students are drawn to these things that can potentially harm them and even affect their future. Students may here stories, but they think they are invincible and that bad things will not happen to them. I hate that many of these subjects are taboo to about about in the educational setting.

I think books like these need to be incorporated into the classroom because talking about these subjects and showing what can happen can really effect students decisions to partake in these activities. Students can really relate to this book because there is so much pressure to drink, do drugs have sex and even more things that they do not need in their lives.

Nickolas Armstrong said...

It sounds to me like this book hits home with several issues that high schoolers could use some help dealing with. The plot sounds incredibly engaging, and comes with a substantial amount of food for thought about some real issues that we face as we grow up. I also found you critiques of the book valuable, I think your points about the era going over kid's heads and a lack of character depth and growth are very interesting and I would definitely keep them in mind if I ever read the book. Thank you for the awesome review!!

Anonymous said...

Her novel Debbie Harry Sings in French is a knock-out! I like this one a lot, too.