Bold Story Press

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By Christine Fallert Kessides

IR Rating:
Debut author Christine Fallert Kessides' wonderfully rich young adult novel, MAGDA, STANDING, includes period details which are convincingly evoked and a fully realized protagonist in all of her emotional complexity.
IR Approved

It’s Pittsburgh, 1916 and a young teenager’s dreams are shattered by familial responsibility and the encroaching shadows of the Great War and the Spanish Flu epidemic.

Magda Augustin is a bright, sensitive and ambitious 16 year old living in Pittsburgh. She has high hopes of attending college and building a career. Her dreams are dashed when her father insists she must give up higher education to care for her sick mother and young brother. With the help of her aunts she manages to continue studying at home. As part of an immigrant German family, Magda faces mistrust and xenophobia, not least because the Great War has begun in Europe. Graffiti in her neighborhood reads, “Go home to the Kaiser”. When the USA enters the fray, her older brothers enlist. She too will find a way to help the war effort. Though the devastation across Europe seems too much to bear, the tragedies are compounded further by the Spanish Flu epidemic. In such trying times, Magda reveals herself to be a character of immense compassion and admirable fortitude.

Christine Fallert Kessides has crafted a meticulously researched and impressively detailed family saga with its roots in her own history for her debut novel, MAGDA, STANDING. Many facets of Magda’s story that are so compellingly constructed in this period novel are mirrored by problems that society faces today. Of course Spanish Flu has its contemporary parallel with the recent Covid epidemic of which the author admits taking some inspiration. Other issues including immigration, patriotism and racism are also touched upon. The difficulty in ambitious youth funding further education in the face of familial responsibility and excessive costs is an issue still not adequately addressed more than a century down the line. The book also features discussion on mental health and the revelation of Magda’s mother’s breakdown is handled with skill. The author carefully addresses the inadequacies of treatments and the taboo nature of mental illness of the time while also nodding towards current shortcomings in care and understanding.

Magda’s self-determination in moving towards emancipation is winningly portrayed by Kessides as the young girl fights back against the expectation of her to commit to “the ‘sacred preoccupations’ of women: Kinder, Kochen, und Kirche —children, cooking and church.” Though the novel is long, with plenty of time given to the intricacies of the developing girl’s inner and outer world, it very rarely drags. There are a few sections, where Magda is being taught history by her aunts, where Kessides slips from pure storytelling and drifts toward the didactic but these soon pass.

Debut author Christine Fallert Kessides’ wonderfully rich young adult novel, MAGDA, STANDING, includes period details which are convincingly evoked and a fully realized protagonist in all of her emotional complexity.

~Kent Lane for IndieReader

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