Supergirl Mixtapes by Meagan Brothers (Twitter)
Publication Date: April 24, 2012
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Target Audience: Mature Young Adult
Format read: Paperback from ALA! (Thanks!)
Summary: Maria is ready to start fresh in New York City, living with her estranged mom and going to a new school. She’s not exactly sure what to expect but anything can be better than her old friends and invisibly cohabiting with her dad. But for more reasons than one, New York isn’t all she thought it would be…
“Because it’s New York fucking City and it’s the coolest city in the whole world.”
When I was younger, my best friend (at the time) and I would make mixed tapes for each other by recording songs from music videos on VH1 or MTV. I distinctly remember setting my mini boom box on my TV stand and pressing record. In Supergirl Mixtapes, Maria receives tapes from her best friend, Dory, who is in college. The tapes are full of strong female performers as well as whatever she is listening to at the moment. To Maria, these tapes provide a comfort and a connection to a person she can’t be with all the time; they were made to cover every kind of mood.
In general, music is a connector and comfort to most of the characters in this book. Why they need that connection and that comfort is a whole other story.
From the title Supergirl Mixtapes might be mistaken for a light, coming-of-age story and even though the back summary talks of a “darker side” and her mom’s “shadowy past”, I was not prepared for the events that ended up taking place. Maria was a different kind of main character for me. She was more of a risk taker, sort of a loner yet self-sufficient and full of passion for all things music. It’s an interesting thing to grow up without a mom (and without zero contact with her) and all of sudden be your mother’s daughter while sort of being your mother’s mother too. Vic is a hip mom with her 20-year old boyfriend and desire to stay up listening to records on a school night, mastering dance moves from various decades.
Truth: Mother and daughter relationships are tricky and complex as it is. But Maria and Vic bring this knowledge to a whole new level.
Brothers does a great job of building on this conflict between Maria and her mom, then Maria and herself, and even involving Maria and her life in the South (mostly revelations about her own father). While reading, about a hundred different scenarios were buzzing in my head… I had no idea what Maria would discover about her mom, why she had left the South in the first place, and what would come out of this bizarre life she was living in New York – pretending to be one thing and being another entirely. (For the record, my theories were all wrong.)
Growing up around New York and spending most of my 9-5 here for the past couple of years, I loved reading about a book set in 1997 NYC. The only other YA book I’ve read recently that’s set in time other than present day is Other Words for Love which placed characters in 80s NYC. I find it a fascinating (and creative) decision to set a fictionalized book in a time so close to the present but still so wildly different. It really worked here. It’s always intriguing to hear about how a place grows and changes, and only in about 15 years? Crazy.
The author also presents some great secondary characters: Travis, mom’s boyfriend and a stomach-flipping guitar player; Gram, a college boy from the South that Maria meets in a record shop; Nina, an older friend of Maria’s mom who reminded me of Julie Andrews when she took Maria under her wing. Not only are these supporting characters well developed but it’s amazing just how much of an impact each has on Maria as well.
Looking back, one thing I would have liked to see in the book was more of a presence by the mixed tapes. Actual lists beginning every few chapters, maybe? Sure, the book itself was obviously written by someone with great rock music knowledge and provided a soundtrack all on its own but the actual tapes from Maria’s best friend may have tied up a few loose corners and made it live up to its name just a bit more.
And the ending. I’m not going to lie. After reading in the street as I walked to work (something I hate when other people do it), I would have liked a bit more resolution, sure. But in ways, the growth in Maria and her ability to maybe move forward and understand something about herself was apparent. Brothers has written a strong novel about a girl during one time in her life. A dark time. But a time full of discovery, too. Where she goes next… we don’t know but we certainly have an idea. And, for once, I wasn’t entirely bothered by unknown.
* I’m really torn with this rating. This was a book I couldn’t peel my eyes away from and I could see how music lovers might be SUPER enthused about this book. Buy or borrow. I guess it doesn’t matter as long as you read it. *
Just one more note. I couldn’t help but think of two of my (absolute) favorite books as I read this: God Shaped Hole and How to Kill a Rock Star by Tiffanie DeBartolo. Another writer who just oozes with her passion of music.