Cbr14bingo Shadow Medusa lives in a cave, hides in the shadows from Perseus and is a shadow of herself because of what happened to her. This book would fit for the snake or monster squares as well.
This YA novel (for 9th grade and older) with beautiful illustrations by Olivia Lomenech Gill, reimagines the myth of Medusa, a woman with snakes for hair whose glance could turn men to stone. In the original myth, Poseidon raped Medusa in Athena’s temple, causing Athena to punish Medusa with the snakes and a curse. Perseus eventually beheaded Medusa with the help of Athena. Jessie Burton takes the story in a slightly different and much better direction. She imagines what the girl Medusa might have been like and the circumstances that resulted in her cursed life. Medusa is a relevant story for all those, especially girls, who are judged and valued solely because of their appearances and who cannot seem to escape attention and harmful comments. This is a novel about violence against girls, the trauma that is attached to that, and learning to reclaim one’s own life despite what outsiders want you to think about yourself.
In Burton’s Medusa, Medusa was the mortal daughter of minor sea deities, and her older sisters Stheno and Euryale were also immortals. As a child, Medusa enjoyed being outdoors, walking around the village where she lived and along the shore. She and her dog Argentus often sailed a small boat out in the sea. These simple joys were slowly taken away from her as she entered puberty. Her fellow villagers began to take note of her appearance and felt free to comment on her looks, arguing amongst themselves and within earshot of Medusa about her beauty. These conversations about her beauty or lack thereof robbed Medusa of the pleasure of simply walking around the village and its environs. Increasingly, she and her dog took to the sea for enjoyment, but it wasn’t long before Poseidon began to harass her. When it was clear that Medusa, aged 14, was not interested in his advances, the sea god resorted to pressure, stirring up a deadly storm and only agreeing to prevent her death if she promised to give the god anything he wanted. She agreed to this offer she couldn’t refuse, but she also knew that in order to protect herself she would have to now avoid the sea. Isolated and afraid, Medusa turned to the goddess Athena for help, not understanding that the jealous goddess would exact equally horrific promises from the girl and eventually resort to victim blaming when Poseidon tracks her down in Athena’s temple. Athena’s punishment for Medusa and her two sisters was for them to be transformed into Gorgons. Moreover, Athena used Medusa’s words against her for an additional curse: “Woe betide any man foolish enough to look upon you!”
Four years after these events, Medusa and her sisters have been living on a remote desert island. Stheno and Euryale are winged and spend most of the daylight hours fishing for their food. Medusa spends days alone on the island with Argentus and her snakes, whom she has named and who seem to be able to respond to her thoughts and moods. From a cliff top one day she sees something unexpected — a boat carrying a handsome young man, his dog and some impressive weaponry. Medusa speaks to the young man from the shadows of a cave, refusing to show herself because of her “deformity,” and learns that his name is Perseus and that he is lost. Telling him that her name is Merina, Medusa finds herself engaged in conversation with Perseus over the next few days, hiding his existence from her sisters and learning bits and pieces of his story while she tells bits of hers.
Medusa is falling in love with Perseus and he seems to be feeling the same way, but Medusa knows that Athena has cursed her and she isn’t sure what that would mean for Perseus if he saw her. She finds that with Perseus, she can finally talk about the terrible things that happened to her but she holds back when it comes to the snakes on her head. Perseus tells Medusa about his need to help his mother, who is the subject of a powerful king’s unwanted advances and the reason for his quest. The journey of each character toward telling the truth about themselves is really well done. Burton draws the parallels between the treatment of Perseus’ mother and Medusa. She also shows how a man’s good looks are less limiting on him that a woman’s looks are for her, that for a woman, looks can become a prison. I especially liked the way she worked Poseidon and Athena into Perseus’ story; while they are villains for Medusa, Perseus has reason to think well of them.
Jessie Burton’s Medusa is the story of a victim learning how to handle the trauma she has endured and learning to love and see the strength in the person she is now. The final resolution of the story of Medusa and Perseus is handled differently in this book than in the classic myth, but as far as I’m concerned, it is the better story.