Monday, October 2, 2023

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of Coyote Queen by Jessica Vitalis

Coyote Queen by Jessica Vitalis
Publisher:  Greenwillow Books
Format:  E-ARC 
Number of pages: 272 pages
Publishing:   October 10th, 2023
Source:  Publisher via Netgalley

Opening Lines:  "Before the coyote stuff happened, I would have told you that magic didn't exist."

Twelve-year-old Fud (Felicity Ulysses Dahlers) lives with her mom and her alcoholic ex-boxer boyfriend Larry in a small trailer in Wyoming.  Prior to meeting Larry, they were homeless, as Fud's dad left shortly after finding out her mom was pregnant.  Fud's clothes come from yard sales or a thrift store and every t-shirt she owns has mostly faded.  She gets teased at school because of what she wears.  Larry has lots of anger issues, which for now means mostly holes in the wall, but he can be verbally demeaning, volatile and tries to control Fud and her mom's every move.  Which is made even more difficult because to get around they rely on his beat-up truck, which is always having problems.  Larry has grand plans of getting back into the ring once his back problems stop acting up.  Fud tries to stay out of his way as much as possible, but what she really wishes is for him to treat her mom better.

Then a new girl, Leigh moves into the empty trailer next door.  This girl reminds Fud too much of Ava, who bullies her at school, and initially she is very hesitant when she approaches her about being friends.  Leigh has all the things that Fud wants, a stable home, she even has nice clothes to wear and a full pantry of food to eat.  But Leigh is so friendly and talkative, and Fud starts to overcome some of her initial hesitation in getting to know her better.  Soon Leigh is convincing Fud to enter the Miss Tween Black Gold beauty pageant.  The grand prize is two thousand dollars and would surely be enough for Fud and her mom to escape from Larry's control.  When the pageant starts to come with some unforeseen costs, tensions increase in the trailer, and Larry begins to start physically taking it out on her mom.  When Fud learns that her mom is also pregnant and that Larry wants them to move into a houseboat as soon as he's fixed it up, Fud triples her effort into winning the pageant at all costs, even hiding the fact from Leigh that she might be moving away.  Soon things spiral out of control when Larry accelerates his plans for moving on to the boat on the eve of the pageant, leading Fud to courageously ask for help from Leigh's mom.  Part of the story that I haven't touched on too much is how Fud morphed into a coyote, which occurred when her mom and Larry were arguing.  The moments that Fud experiences these coyote thoughts and actions sort of take on a dream or imaginative quality, fantastical for sure.  Yet, I'm not sure whether they just provided her a means of escape to howl at the world or whether there was an actual transformation.  Either way, I think it does speak to how frustrating the situation was for her and provided a much-needed means of escape.  

Fud and her mom are in a bad situation.  Fud knows it's bad, but her mom makes lots of excuses for Larry's behavior and ultimately chooses to leave with him.  Partially to protect Fud but also to avoid financial instability.  I'd say Fud is very defensive, leery of Leigh but also really wanting her friendship.  Given how the rest of the kids at school treated her, it's understandable that would be her first reaction.  She doesn't want to be too optimistic and be hurt.  Even though Leigh and Fud argued a few times, I'm happy that each time they were able to resolve things too.  Fud really needs her in her life.  Coyote Queen really sheds light on poverty, domestic abusive relationships and gives children hope that by sharing their story with a trusted adult than things can get better.  I was personally touched by the authors note which describes how the story was inspired by her own childhood.  It makes this story so powerful to have this first-person account and to show children that although they may be facing struggles now, that there is hope in relying on a trusted adult.  I also especially appreciated all the resources that were provided for getting help.  Other books that I've read and enjoyed from the author include The Wolf's Curse and The Rabbit's Gift.  

I hope you'll check out all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge's blog HERE  


  1. Sadly this is not a rare situation, and I hope this book helps many kids find the help they need. It is really interesting that the author based the story on her own background, and also inspiring that she managed not only to survive and/or escape but also followed her dreams and became an author. It sounds a great story and thank you for sharing.

  2. An engaging story and I hope to share my review later this month. Your synopsis and discussion of the important pints was spot on. Thanks for being a part of MMGM this week.

  3. Great review. Too bad this story reflects the real lives of too many kids. Finding people you can trust is important, and not easy for some folks.

  4. This sounds so powerful. I really want to read this one. Happy MMGM! :)

  5. Interesting that she turns into a coyote when her mom and the boyfriend argue. I feel for poor Fud!

  6. Very comprehensive review. I think this book will touch a cord in many readers' lives. Unfortunately.

  7. This sounds like a great book in this series. Though it's too bad Jessica had to experience some of what she wrote about. Thanks for sharing it with us this week.

  8. Unfortunately, an awful lot of kids can relate to this story. It sounds like it is really well written. I'll try to find a copy. Thanks for your thoughtful review.