Four years ago, after attracting the unwanted attention of Poseidon and being cursed by Athena, Medusa and her sisters fled to a distant island. Her winged sisters take to the skies every day, leaving Medusa alone with only the snakes on her head for company. One day, Medusa discovers Perseus, a handsome boy stranded on the island. Slowly, they open up to each other, unaware that their blossoming relationship will become the spark of a tragedy.
Jessie Burton’s Medusa is a feminist retelling of the classical Greek myth of Medusa and Perseus, brought to life with full-color illustrations by Olivia Lomenech Gill. The book adds complexity to a character many readers may know only as a monstrous Gorgon, famously capable of turning anyone who looks at her into stone. Here, readers meet Medusa not as a monster but as a hopeful girl who bears both psychological and physical scars.
Burton’s narrative powerfully explores the effects of abuse. Medusa tells her story, giving readers a firsthand glimpse into the trauma she’s experienced, its long-term ramifications and the twisting rationalizations that others use to defend her abusers. As she transitions to adulthood and navigates healing, identity and romance, she often looks to the women in her life for guidance and insight. Medusa’s sisters, Stheno and Euryale, and even Athena herself offer varying perspectives on maturity and femininity, and Medusa is able to consider their conflicting views while also developing her own way forward.
Gill’s illustrations provide visual representations of Medusa’s thoughts and feelings. Sketches of birds and ocean life ground the story in the seaside isolation of Medusa’s island. Some of the images, such as one of Medusa and her sisters flying into the night sky, have a collage-like quality that endows the story’s mythical subjects with genuine human emotion. Gill’s colors mirror Medusa’s emotional journey: Medusa’s joy shines through in vivid blues and greens, her curiosity about Perseus is a soft yellow, and her horrific past is a dark and bloody red.
Throughout the book, Burton’s prose and Gill’s art work in harmony to offer two intertwined ways of learning who Medusa really is. By placing her at the center of the tale, they give an epic voice to victims whose stories often go ignored and untold. Readers who love nuanced retellings of myths will not want to miss it.