Springer, Nancy. (2007). Dusssie. New York: Walker & Company.
Appetizer: The morning after Dusie gets her first period she wakes to discover her hair has transformed into snakes (luckily, none of them are poisonous!). While this causes a wee-bit of a panic for thirteen-year-old Dusie, her mom doesn't seem to be surprised. In fact, it would seem her mother may have dreaded this. But even her mom is surprised when Dusie realizes she can hear the thoughts of all her new 27 snakes on her head.
The shocking change on the top of her head leads Dusie to uncover the secrets her mother has been keeping from her all Dusie's life and she'll embark on a journey of self-discovery (as opposed to a mythological quest) to find a way to undo the magic curse.
With both references to fairy tales and Greek Myths, it'd be easy to think of Dusssie as a "girl-version" of the Percy Jackson series. Dusssie is more focused on emotions and a potential romance than adventure. Dusie wants to feel loved, but she's not certain she can find love with 27 snakes slithering on top of her head. While there is a hint of a prophecy (or riddle, as the case may be) this book is more rooted in the personal, instead of a nation-saving quest. It feels a lot like an allegory, exploring a lot of the tensions of femininity and girl-becoming-womanhood-ness. Stuff.
I thought Springer did an excllent job of putting the reader (me!) in the mind-set of what it would be like to have...snakes for hair. An early scene shows the snakes feeling threated when Dusie tries to return to school. How do the snakes attempt to deal with their fear? Well....
"Deploy musssk! Deploy fecesss!" (p. 19).
The horror. And, ewwwww (but also hilarious!). That would be a very not fun condition to deal with. It made me so thankful that my hair was an ordinary bunch of dead cells. Thank you, world, for that.
Previously, I'd read Springer's first Enola Holmes mystery, The Case of the Missing Marquess. I absolutely LOVED the feminist twists she presented in Victorian England by giving Sherlock Holmes a super clever little sister. And that sense of female empowerment is also in Dusssie (which, personally, makes me want to do a little feminist happy dance. What does a feminist happy dance look like? It may or may not involve a lot of bending and flexing of muscles. That's all I'll possibly (not) reveal).
As I was reading, I felt that Dusie's maturation from a girl into a woman and coming to terms with who her mother was and is seemed to be the heart of the story. Of course, others may disagree. (I would, of course, love to read your interpretations in the comments!)
Some one else may want to focus on the way beauty is perceived. A teacher could also use this book with a lesson on the snakes that are commonly found in the U.S.A. To better understand her condtion, Dusie researches what the types of snakes are on her head (and this serves as a metaphor for her getting to know herself as well).
But now, having been so positive for all these paragraphs, let's take a moment to look at the book cover once more:
I don't like it. While it definitely made me think of Medusa, nothing about the girl's face would want to make me pick the book up. Plus, I didn't get that the middle 's' was being spelled with a snake at first. (This is especially confusing because the character's actual name is Dusie. Only the snakes call her Dusssie.)
I think the cover is too literal. It doesn't make me want to pick up this story. Ya know? In my head, I see more of an outline of a Medusa head. Or maybe an image that would be more symbolic. But since I have no art skills, I can't actually show you what I'm thinking.
What do you-all think?
"Color me stupid, but I was thirteen before I understood why my mother always wore a turban. I thought it was just part of her artistic weirdness. I had no clue until my own hair turned into snakes" (p. 1).
"Mom's name hadn't meant a thing to me. I mean, who knows what a gorgon is anymore? Mom hadn't told me until today that under the turban her hair was vipers, under the polish her fingernails were bronze, under the caps her teeth were fangs. She hadn't told me that she'd had wings surgically removed by a doctor who could be blackmailed to keep quiet. She had told me, years ago, that she'd named me after her dead sister, but she hadn't told me that Dusie was a nickname--short for Medusa" (pp. 7-8).
"A coldly regal voice said in my mind, we prefer to be addresssed as ssserpentsss.
"I would prefer if you would shut up!"
I heard a hissy murmur from the crowd, and the regal one said, Be polite. We bite" (p. 13).
"He never got to say any more. If looks could kill...but mine could. I didn't realize in time, but I felt it happen as anger blazed in me, my snakes thrashed and struck at the air, my eyes flared fire, and Troy...Troy turned to white stone" (p. 20).
"My mother had been lying to me. All my life. She'd let me think that while I was in school she spent her days at some studio somewhere, chipping away like Michelangelo, when really...really she was a serial killer, sort of" (p. 24).
"I am going to get rid of you, " I told my snakes...
Go ahead, said the scarlet king snake, and all the others gave a hissy titter, sss-sss-sss. They didn't act like I was scaring them. Not at all. They seemed completely sure I couldn't do it.
Or maybe they knew something I didn't" (pp. 77-78).
Tasty Rating: !!!!