Novalee and the Spider Secret could be a catalyst for the younger generation, empowering the novel’s readers in the same vein as the #MeToo movement, which empowers people all around the nation to speak up about their sexual abuse. From the point of view of a young girl who is sexually abused, Lori Ann Stephens’ novel is special as it caters to a pre-teen audience.
Stephens introduces us to Novalee, or Nova, the elementary-aged middle child of an extraordinarily ordinary family. Novalee struggles with making friends mostly because of her name, because no one wants to sit next to a girl named Nova who might explode – get it, supernova…it’s elementary school logic.
She arguably hits on every elementary novel protagonist trope, except she has a spider secret. This secret is like a spider inside Nova that wants to crawl out, but there’s a web inside that won’t let it – a web of silence, guilt, and disbelief. She has one thing that makes her want to die, and it’s her violin teacher kissing her inappropriately.
Addressing such a timely subject is no easy feat, and Stephens hits the nail on this head with this poignant narrative. Novalee is relatable on a level beyond the text. We get to see her life unfold outside the heavy torment she receives while in her violin lessons, following her through elementary school, wanting to be friends with the popular girls, Missy and Della, while the boy with snot always dripping down his nose, Toby, tries to be Nova’s friend with little luck at first. The narrative is fast-paced, like any good middle grade novel, keeping the attention of the younger target audience and offering an accessible read.
Some sections of the narrative are (understandably) disturbing, and may not be manageable to some readers. Perhaps the text could have used a content trigger warning; however, it should be experienced by an adult audience as well. The narrative, as a whole, is perfectly crafted to present a reflection of real life experiences that have been lived time and time again without any real discourse. Novalee represents every person who is afraid to speak up, who has been guilted into sacrificing their own happiness for someone who only takes, who has felt helpless. The narrative fits well into the larger rhetorical discourse of sexual abuse. What gives it a spot of its own is its middle grade audience. Discovering a narrative that fits on the bookshelf of an elementary school and in a larger cultural discourse is a rarity.
Read Novalee and the Spider Secret. The narrative is easily accessible to all ages and provides an engaging story with takeaways for everyone. If you like the way Perks of Being a Wallflower plays out, Nova’s story will similarly enrapture you. Stephens manages to capture the balance between a story its young audience can digest, while also presenting timely commentary on heavy issues. Nova’s spider secret is universal, a web of silence our society has been stuck in for far too long; stuck in the web, children and adults aren’t so different. The book empowers and enlightens, and Nova’s narrative voice makes it all a poignant experience.