Title: The Mark of the Dragonfly
Author: Jaleigh Johnson
Publisher: Random House BFYR
Pub. Date: March 25, 2014
Genre: Middle Grade
Rec. Age Level: 10+
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Piper lives a hard life. Only 13-years old and an orphan, her survival is tenuous, but, thanks to her considerable skill as a machinist, she's able to keep food in her stomach and a roof over her head. But Piper wants more from life and she thinks she may have found a way out when she discovers a young girl with a dragonfly tattoo in a caravan destroyed during a meteor storm. Those marked by the dragonfly are protected by the ruler of the neighboring Dragonfly Territories and Piper is sure that returning this girl to her home will result in enough money to start over. But returning the girl, Anna, to the territories will be no easy task, especially when Piper discovers that there's a man after the girl, a man who Anna doesn't remember but fears nonetheless. Their only chance of eluding the man and reaching the territories is to jump the 401, a steam powered locomotive that travels between the countries and costs more than Piper could ever afford. Illegally boarding the train is risky, but Piper and Anna are out of options and their lives are very likely in jeopardy.
Jaleigh Johnson's standalone debut, The Mark of the Dragonfly, is a fast-paced, magical MG fantasy novel. The novel also features some smart steampunk elements as well, which I really love to see in middle grade literature! One of my favorite things about this novel is the tagline: "One is smart. One is brave. One is hiding a secret that could cost them their lives." What's great about this tagline is its ambiguity - all of the characters are smart, brave, and hiding secrets - but which one has the secret that could cost them their lives?
There are more and more female characters that excel at traditionally male roles in children's literature, but I'm always happy to see more. In The Mark of the Dragonfly, Piper is a skilled mechanic, in part because of her innate ability but also because she's focused and a hard worker. She's smart and capable, surviving on her own in a harsh, unforgiving landscape after losing her parents. Piper dreams of seeing the world and finding success, but she stays true to herself and morals, doing what she believes is right and choosing the difficult path over an easy, but morally faulty, alternative.
Anna, the girl Piper rescues from the meteor shower, was a charming, mystery of a character. She constantly reminded me of River Tam, a character from Firefly, so I was immediately fond of her.
The final main character featured on the novel's cover is Gee. He was one of the most interesting characters because his mystery was a bit more subtle than Anna's and Piper's. He and Piper clash in wonderful ways that highlight each character's strengths and weaknesses.
The Mark of the Dragonfly will be one of my new go-to recommendations for MG fantasy. The main trio of characters is diverse and works well together and the world is well-developed. Plus, I like that this novel is a standalone, but that there is the possibility for more novels set in this world.