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Red Ink by Julie Mayhew, 320 pp, RL: TEEN

Actress and playwright Julie Mayhew makes her literary debut with the YA novel Red Ink. Melon Fouraki has grown up in London with a challenging first name, a mother who is only 15 years older than her, as well as thinner and prettier, and a lifetime of stories her mother tells her about growing up and her family back on Crete. Stories about the melon farm where Maria grew up and her love of her family's land; stories of moving to London with her mother when Maria became pregnant as a teenager; stories about sitting on the top deck of the bus to find other Greek speakers in England; of making kollyva, the traditional dish of boiled wheat, for her mother's funeral and of the many Greek superstitions like never writing a letter to a person in red ink unless you wish them death. 

Melon begins narrating her story seventeen days after her mother is hit by a bus and killed. The chapters of Red Ink jump backward and forwards in time, always indicated by days since (her mother's death) tangling the plot in a compelling way that makes Melon's difficult character tolerable. Melon tells the reader and her therapist and social worker, as well as Paul, her mother's fiancé, a social worker just like Maria had been, that she is not grieving and does not miss her mother. At school, Melon lashes out at fake friends and bullies, realizing that Chick, the girl she considered her longtime best friend has no loyalty and no way to connect with Melon in her grief. But, she does "borrow" Chick's credit card to visit a swanky salon and get her long, curly hair chopped off. Melon does not cry at her mother's funeral, which Paul has tried to make as close to a Greek ceremony as possible, although she is surprised by all the people who turn out for it.

It is only when Paul brings home her mother's ashes that Melon begins to cry. As therapy, she has been trying to write down the story of her life, and her mother's life, as often told to her. When Paul and Melon travel to Crete to meet Maria's family and spread her ashes on the farm where she grew up, Melon learns the many falsehoods that made up the family story Maria always told her. Getting to this massive revelation was both a great anticipation and one that I didn't mind waiting for over the course of Red Ink. While Melon is an abrasive character, her voice feels so authentically adolescent that it was easy to forgive her and listen. The power of stories of the past and the power to change your own story and rewrite it in the present, as your life is unfolding, as explored in Red Ink are fascinating. This is especially so when you consider that Melon is at a point in her life when she is figuring out who she is and beginning to write her own story, which is exactly what she does by the end of the novel, and with a healthy dose of appreciation for the subjectivity we bring to our own narratives.

Source: Review Copy


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