What is The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson? Is it Steampunk? Is it Sci-fi? Is it Fantasy? IT'S ALL THE THINGS.
Piper is an orphan living in Scrap Town 16. She makes a living scavenging junk found in meteor fields. She's an eerily talented machinist, and hopes to one day make enough coin to leave for better prospects in the Merrow Kingdom's capital city.
One day, after a particularly harrowing meteor shower, she happens upon a destroyed caravan, with a girl inside, who mysteriously bears the mark of the dragonfly: an intricate tattoo sported only by favorites of the King himself. Piper nurses the girl back to health...to find she's quite a peculiar person. Anna is obsessed with order and organization, seemingly constantly preoccupied with analyzing whether things make logical sense to her, and her head is filled to the brim with information, not all of it practically useful. Before Piper can decide if she's made a huge mistake inviting this strange girl into her life, they're confronted by a man who claims to be related to Anna. Anna has no clear memory of him, and certainly bad vibes about him, so Piper and Anna flee the man, and the scrap town, aboard the 401, an old but beautiful train. Anna's dragonfly buys them passage, but not the trust of the train's head of security, Gee, a young man with a chip on his shoulder, and inhumanly green eyes.
The story takes off from here, as we try to unravel the mystery of who Anna is, and why anyone would be after her.
This book has got a bit of everything: Mythology, high speed chase scenes, cross-bow show-downs, magic, plot twists, even a little chaste romance. Also: A whole heck of a lot of GIRL POWER.
In regards to its literary merit, I found it to be well written, with dynamic characters, and a carefully constructed story line. Some may see Johnson's world building as a mish-mash of genres, but I liked it! Who says you can't mix your fantasy with your sci-fi? Probably the same fascists who don't want you mixing chocolate with peanut butter. It only makes the book more appealing, in my opinion. I can already think of a ton of kids who are going to be so hyped when I tell them about this book.
Is it a contender for the Newbery? I say why not? It's kind of "out there," but so were When You Reach Me and The Graveyard Book, and it got a starred review from Kirkus, which is typically a good sign. I think it's definitely praise-worthy, and I hope it's at least on the committee's radar. If nothing else, it gets two thumbs up from this humble librarian.
Today's guest reviewer is Tess Goldwasser, Youth Services Librarian, St. Mary's County Library, Maryland. Tess also writes about picture books at Kid's Book Blog.