I received this book from NetGalley as an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Genre: Young adult, historical fiction
Representation: Immigrant main characters
Content warning: Death, war
Release date: August 17th, 2021
Summary: This enchanting novel in verse captures one young woman’s struggle for independence, equality, and identity as the daughter of Greek and French immigrants in tumultuous 1930s Detroit.
Call Me Athena: Girl from Detroit is a beautifully written novel in verse loosely based on author Colby Cedar Smith’s paternal grandmother. The story follows Mary as the American-born daughter of Greek and French immigrants living in Detroit in the 1930s, creating a historically accurate portrayal of life as an immigrant during the Great Depression, hunger strikes, and violent riots.
Mary lives in a tiny apartment with her immigrant parents, her brothers, and her twin sister, and she questions why her parents ever came to America. She yearns for true love, to own her own business, and to be an independent, modern American woman—much to the chagrin of her parents, who want her to be a “good Greek girl.”
Mary’s story is peppered with flashbacks to her parents’ childhoods in Greece and northern France; their stories connect with Mary as they address issues of arranged marriage, learning about independence, and yearning to grow beyond one’s own culture. Though Call Me Athena is written from the perspective of three profoundly different narrators, it has a wide-reaching message: It takes courage to fight for tradition and heritage, as well as freedom, love, and equality.
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A few days back, I realised it had been a while since I’d last listened to one and I was in the mood for an audiobook, so I decided to check out the Listen Now section of NetGalley, and I found this. So I read it on a whim and I enjoyed it very much.
I truly enjoyed how this story was put together. We’re mainly following Mary, a young girl of immigrant parents living in Detroit in the 1930s, whilst we also get to see her parents stories intertwined with her own. I loved seeing how the different cultures and time periods influences each of the characters and their interactions with each other. It was a great depiction of interpersonal relationships within a family.
The narration of the audiobook was also fantastic. This is a book in verse, and I think listening to it with its different narrators, rather than just physically reading it, truly brings it to life. The voices were distinct and beautifully portrayed, and it made the experience all that much better.
Finally, this story touches on so many themes, from love to life as an immigrant to individualism and I think all of them were very well-balanced. Everything is treated with care and explored in a beautiful way. Despite Mary’s story being at the core of the novel, the themes pertaining to her parents’ stories are equally paid-attention to, which makes this book feel like a very complete family story.
I would also like to add that I think it’s fantastic how the author was inspired by her own family history and how she was able to derive such a beautiful story from that—not without much research, as she mentions in the author’s note.
All in all, I truly believe this book is worth a shot. It’s a fast read that deals with many interesting and important topics in a very delicate way. Additionally, I recommend listening to the audiobook if you can.
Have you heard of this book? Are you interested in picking it up? Do let me know your opinions!