“This story of an immigrant girl growing up in Detroit in the 1930s hits every mark. Woven into the story are her parents’ histories and all the love and loss the family has faced. It will tug your heartstrings.”
— Izzy Stringham, Bookbinders Basalt, Basalt, CO
This enchanting novel in verse captures one young woman’s struggle for independence, equality, and identity as the daughter of Greek and French immigrants in tumultuous 1930s Detroit.
Call Me Athena: Girl from Detroit is a beautifully written novel in verse loosely based on author Colby Cedar Smith’s paternal grandmother. The story follows Mary as the American-born daughter of Greek and French immigrants living in Detroit in the 1930s, creating a historically accurate portrayal of life as an immigrant during the Great Depression, hunger strikes, and violent riots.
Mary lives in a tiny apartment with her immigrant parents, her brothers, and her twin sister, and she questions why her parents ever came to America. She yearns for true love, to own her own business, and to be an independent, modern American woman—much to the chagrin of her parents, who want her to be a “good Greek girl.”
Mary’s story is peppered with flashbacks to her parents’ childhoods in Greece and northern France; their stories connect with Mary as they address issues of arranged marriage, learning about independence, and yearning to grow beyond one’s own culture. Though Call Me Athena is written from the perspective of three profoundly different narrators, it has a wide-reaching message: It takes courage to fight for tradition and heritage, as well as freedom, love, and equality.
About the Author
Colby Cedar Smith grew up in the Midwest, and she still dreams of the cold northern woods and the smell of lake water. She holds degrees from Colorado College and Harvard University. She has been a finalist for the The Iowa Review Poetry Award, the New Letters Poetry Prize, and the Colorado Prize for Poetry, and a semifinalist for the 92Y “Discovery” Boston Review Poetry Prize. In 2020, Colby received a NJ Individual Artist Fellowship in Poetry. Her poems have been published in Bellevue Literary Review, Harpur Palate, Mid-American Review, Pleiades, Potomac Review, Saranac Review, and The Iowa Review. Colby lives with her husband and two children in Hopewell, New Jersey, and teaches creative writing at the Arts Council of Princeton. You can read more of her work at www.colbycedarsmith.com.
CALL ME ATHENA is a stunning and gorgeous debut from Colby Cedar Smith. Untamed and beautifully wild, this novel in verse careens from the hilltops of France to the olive groves of Greece to the bustling city streets of Detroit. Full of love & images that conjure family, hope, hardship and holding onto our dreams when things fall away from us. With lush, lyrical language, vibrant characters & a storyline that will keep you enthralled from beginning to end, this is a book that stays with you long after the last poem. I love this story. (Ellen Hagan, co-author of Watch Us Rise and author of Reckless, Glorious Girl)
A strong debut written with heart and strength. (Kirkus Reviews)
“Exquisite. A beautiful novel in verse.” (Ruta Sepetys, #1 New York Times bestselling author and Carnegie Medal winner)
“This story of an immigrant girl growing up in Detroit in the 1930s hits every mark. Woven into the story are her parents’ histories and all the love and loss the family has faced. It will tug your heartstrings.” (American Booksellers Association)
“A compelling story of the tension between children and their immigrant parents and the sometimes conflicting dreams.” (School Library Journal)
Call Me Athena is a kaleidoscope of moments from the past, yet its real strength is the way it takes such different times, places, and stories and shows how commonalities like love, grief, and hope can connect a family over the course of generations. (Booklist)
Highly Recommended Review; “By writing this story as poetry told by the characters, Smith's language is strong, descriptive, and so full of emotion that readers will feel the overwhelming loss of a sibling, the stomach-turning events of the war, the fear of an arranged marriage, the hostility aimed at immigrants, and the political unrest of the times.”
(School Library Connection)
“A young adult stunner lands in Detroit” (Hour Detroit)
“A novel in verse, Colby Cedar Smith’s Call Me Athena follows the daughter of immigrants in Detroit, with flashbacks to her parents’ native France and Greece.” (Forbes)