Made in Maine by Shawn Samuelson Henry
What’s it About?
In the wake of tragedy in small-town Maine, high-school students Luna and Hunter are forced to work together as the unlikely leaders of a fundraising project, one that attempts to make meaning of the senseless disaster.
Ever hear the expression: so many lessons, so little time?
Neither did I. But with so much to unpack in Shawn Samuelson Henry’s marvelous debut YA novel Made in Maine (Woodhall Press), it’s an appropriate way to characterize and celebrate this multi-pronged, issues-jammed teenagers’ search for their true selves and souls. It’s astonishing to think the formative years provide merely the tip of our growing and knowing.
Just consider the themes: teenagers uncomfortable in their own skin, terrified by the effects and acceptance of their physical beings, fitting in with the in-crowd (or with any crowd), sexual orientations, love, abandonment, parent-child struggles, coping with tragedy, economic hardship, moral codes, trust, the importance of community, bullying — get the idea?
Small Town Comes Together After Tragedy
“So the mill just sits there, like a big ugly constant reminder of when life was good.”
Edgewater, Maine is a small working-class town turned upside down when the mill, its prime employer, closes down. Making ends meet gets harder, leisure joys and activities are curbed, alcohol tries to soften but actually stiffens the blow.
We are taken through the tale by two reliable narrators: Luna, who, due to an unusual facial disfigurement, is alone and uncomfortable and forced for the first time to attend an in-person school and confront her demons; and Hunter, a good kid, a basketball star with a popular demanding girlfriend, wrestling with the traumas of a dad he loves who has become an alcoholic since losing his job at the mill.
When tragedy strikes and a young life is lost in a freakish swimming pool accident, before getting caught up in a potential blame game, the Edgewater community rallies together to raise funds for an initiative designed to help young children learn to swim. The town becomes a lesson in economics, fueled by a history teacher explaining the fundamentals and management of operations designed to raise money to support the swimming effort. Selling jam, knitting sweaters and finding benefactors are all part of it. Readers can see the brainstorming and the wheels spinning to make it all happen.
Budding Friendship Amidst Hardship
And with the joy of a common goal, of course there are detractors who threaten the work, open wounds where they may be hidden, and cover dark secrets or two of their own to unravel.
Kids can be so mean. Kids can be so kind. Henry shows us the full spectrum. And the stars of the show are Luna and Hunter, who drive the story and open us to so many of the book’s diverse themes. We get deep into their characters, feel like we know them, feel like we are part of them, we hurt when they do, and relish in their victories.
One gets to feel the angst of Luna in the book’s first sentence: “When I look in the mirror and turn my head sideways, the monster disappears. I almost look normal.” When her aunt has to suspend her dance lessons to save money, it’s hard not to grimace.
When Hunter and Luna connect and develop a friendship, on Hunter’s persistence and to the dismay of his jealous girlfriend Emma, you almost want to applaud out loud.
Real Characters, Important Lessons
In Made in Maine, Shawn Samuelson Henry has given us a YA tour de force, an all-encapsulating drama with real, sensitive and growing characters who hurt and love and think and feel their way through those years when we don’t really know who we are or what we’re supposed to do. Just try to be guided by what you believe is right.
The author has treated us, and more specifically her young adult target audience, to lessons and messages galore. For all the trials and tribulations, the activities and the awkward emotions, one really doesn’t have to navigate much past Henry’s opening Dedication for perhaps the greatest lesson of all: “For all who feel lonely or ashamed or unlovable because of how you look, where you live, whom you love, or who you are. You are valuable. You are worthy. You matter.”
About Shawn Samuelson Henry:
Shawn Samuelson Henry grew up in Hanover, NH, where trips to the library were as exciting as those to the Dartmouth Skiway. After earning degrees from Bucknell University, Harvard University and the University of Wyoming, she taught English to teenagers for more than a decade. She is an avid playwright whose plays have won competitions and been produced across the United States and Canada. Shawn currently lives in Davidson, NC, with her husband and three children.
Publish Date: 9/5/2023
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult
Author: Shawn Samuelson Henry
Page Count: 380 pages
Publisher: Woodhall Press