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January 18, 2018

Review: Mona Ashleigh by Richard Levine

by MK French

Josh, also known as Bugboy, is friends with a group of "Defectives" in a New Jersey school in the early 1960's. When Ashleigh first comes to sit at his table for lunch, he can't see any visible defects and is sure that it's a trick being played on them by the "Normals." But Ashleigh has her own issues and insists she belongs with their group. Their friendship unfolds over the years, and Josh soon learns for himself why she feels the way she does.
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Mona Ashleigh
December 2017; Firedrake Books
978-1941036235; ebook, print (206 pages)
YA, literary fiction
I first read this book when it was still titled The Girl With Brazil Nut Eyes, as Ashleigh has wide, expressive eyes that Josh frequently describes as Brazil nut eyes. With either title, it's Ashleigh that's the focal point of the story, not Josh, even though he's the narrator. She's a clever girl with psychiatric issues, which is portrayed in a very unflinching and honest way. It's often the punchline or a plot point, as opposed to simply another facet about Ashleigh that we get to know, like her eye shape. Josh has a crush on her, but their friendship is important to him and is beautifully written. The end of the story is a surprise so that it's almost a sucker punch after being lulled into a complacent coming of age story.

All of the characters here were fun to read about, even the ones that Josh doesn't discuss at length. Every teen will recognize pieces of themselves in Josh and his friends, as being an awkward teenager is universal and not just part of the 60's. If not for the Kennedy assassination mentioned in the text, as a matter of fact, this is a story that could take place in almost any decade.

Buy Mona Ashleigh at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.

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