Cover image for The dark matter of Mona Starr
The dark matter of Mona Starr

Physical Description:
180 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 24 cm
General Note:
Chiefly illustrations.
Follows the experiences of Mona Starr, who learns how to manage her profound feelings of unworthiness through therapy, art, writing, and the support of a few good friends.


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Stillwater Public Library1On Order



A bold and original YA graphic novel about one teen's battle to understand her mental illness--and find her creative genius

Sometimes, the world is too much for Mona Starr. She's sweet, geeky, and creative, but it's hard for her to make friends and connect with other people, and her depression seems to take on a vivid, concrete form. She calls it her Matter.

The Matter seems to be everywhere, telling Mona she's not good enough and that everyone around her wishes she'd go away. But with therapy, art, writing, and the persistence of a few good friends, Mona starts to understand her Matter and how she can turn her fears into strengths.

Heartfelt, emotionally vulnerable, and visually stunning, The Dark Matter of Mona Starr is a story about battling your inner doubts and fears--and finding your creative genius.

Author Notes

Laura Lee Gulledge is the author of the graphic novels Will & Whit and Page by Paige , which was nominated for the prestigious Eisner Award. She is also a teaching artist as seen through her interactive book Sketchbook Dares: 24 Ways to Draw Out Your Inner Artist . She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. Visit her online at

Reviews 3

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up--The "creative oddball" in a science-loving family, Mona uses astrophysics-inspired metaphors to understand her mental illness--depression is like a cloud of dark matter surrounding her, or a black hole collapsing in on itself. The Matter, as she calls it, keeps the teen from connecting with others, and sometimes it makes her physically sick. Therapy, together with her art, her writing, and a few determined friends, shows Mona that her most difficult moments can, with effort, become her greatest strengths. The realistic, grayscale art is evocative in its simplicity, with detailed expressions adding depth and occasional bursts of bright yellow turning Mona's black holes into exploding stars as she gains self-worth. An inspired, empathetic storyteller, Gulledge (Page by Paige; Will & Whit) draws from her own experiences using art as an outlet for mental health issues. Though she never flinches from depicting the anguish of depression, she instills readers with hope, too, through a self-care plan and chapter headings that also offer advice ("Notice Your Patterns," "Draw It Out," "Break Your Cycles"). VERDICT This immersive portrayal of a sensitive teen learning to live with mental illness will earn nods of recognition from readers coping with anxiety or depression but will also resonate with young people facing any fear.--Kelley Gile, Cheshire Public Library, CT

Kirkus Review

An intimate visual exploration of depression.In this introspective graphic novel, Mona Starr, a sensitive, bespectacled high schooler with a floppy bob, loves journaling, making art, and music. Mona struggles with both depression and anxiety, which she imagines as "dark matter," an internal shadow she must constantly fight to keep it from consuming her. Mona comes from a comfortable middle-class home with loving, supportive parents. She regularly attends therapy and practices self-care. Although she is doing all the seemingly right things, her journey is arduous: She faces debilitating physical pain eventually leading to hospitalization for GI issues. Resolving to take her life back, Mona establishes a personalized self-care plan and surrounds herself with "Artners" (a portmanteau of partners and art) who share "creative intimacy." Mona's story is loosely based on events from Gulledge's (Sketchbook Dares, 2018, etc.) own life, which she discusses in an introduction and author's note along with sharing her own plan for self-care. With an emphasis on both physical and emotional health, this should appeal to older readers of Raina Telgemeier's Guts (2019). Gulledge's absorbing black-and-white art highlighted with bright yellow splashes easily pulls readers into Mona's innermost thoughts as she strives to bring her own darkness into the light. Mona and her family appear white; her therapist, Dr. Vega, may be Afro-Latinx, and there is diversity in secondary characters. Quietly arresting and ultimately empowering. (introduction, reading list, soundtrack, self-care plan, author's note) (Graphic fiction. 12-adult) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Mona lives with crippling depression and anxiety. Because the dark emotions that fill her chest feel elemental and expansive, she names them her "Matter," which can manifest as a black hole or fog or take on a ghostlike form. But no matter what she calls it, her mental illness keeps her from fully engaging with the world around her. Therapy helps and, through various techniques like meditation, recognizing behavior patterns, and drawing, Mona slowly begins to reconnect with her friends, family, and the art she loves so much. She even breaks out of her shell and tentatively expands her social circle. Carefully rendered pencil drawings express Mona's range of emotions, which are heightened by different visual metaphors--walls, trees, outer space, and black shadowy forms all give a literal shape to her Matter. Overlapping panels and dreamlike sequences keep the images flowing in sync with Mona's inner monologue. Introspective, honest, and hopeful, this is a realistic look at the impacts of mental illness that so many youth experience.