Song of the Magdalene

Song of the Magdalene

4.0 3
by Donna Jo Napoli

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The story of a teenage Mary Magdalene — here called Miriam — is finally told....
When the world goes dark and her mind explodes within her, Miriam's future is shattered. In ancient Israel such seizures make her unclean. If anyone finds out about them, she will be an outcast.
Only Abraham — the son of Hannah, her caretaker —


The story of a teenage Mary Magdalene — here called Miriam — is finally told....
When the world goes dark and her mind explodes within her, Miriam's future is shattered. In ancient Israel such seizures make her unclean. If anyone finds out about them, she will be an outcast.
Only Abraham — the son of Hannah, her caretaker — shares her secret. Abraham, too, is afflicted — a perfect mind in an imperfect body — and to the villagers he is an idiot.
To Miriam he is a savior....

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
School Library Journal A gripping novel that is hard to put down

School Library Journal The narrative is rich with modern issues of gender, disability, violence against women, and spirituality.

Booklist [Written with] richness of detail and depth of feeling....Lyrical writing and layered characterizations....

Library Journal - Booksmack!
Napoli has made a career of retelling familiar stories—her latest is The Wager, an update of Don Giovanni—and my hands-down favorite is this, her second book, originally published in 1996. One beautiful morning, Miriam wanders from the safety of her maid, Hannah, and experiences her first epileptic fit. In first-century Palestine, the seizures will mark her as unclean and hence not suitable as a wife and mother. Only Abraham, Hannah's son, can be trusted with her secret. He, too, is an outcast, born twisted with what we understand to be cerebral palsy. Together they forge a fierce marriage of souls and bodies that ends tragically, forcing Miriam to leave her home in Magdala. Possessed by her seventh fit, she takes the hand of a man who "was small and thin and ugly, an unlikely man for the mission the Creator had given him" and finally finds her life's purpose. This powerful treatment of a provocative biblical figure will delight adult fans of Anita Diamant's The Red Tent. Angelina Benedetti, "35 Going on 13", Booksmack!, 12/2/10
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Imagining the youth of Mary Magdalene, this novel is easily Napoli's (Zel, see p. 49) riskiest; unfortunately, it is not one of her most successful. Miriam, daughter of a wealthy Jewish widower in Magdala, is 10 when the novel opens and is about to have her first seizure. Miriam's experiences over the next eight or nine years build up in her a rage at social injustice as well as solidarity with the sick and suffering, therefore preparing her for the fellowship of Joshua, "the healer that the Romans called Jesus," whom she meets in the final passages. Miriam suffers more seizures; loves a "cripple" despite popular belief that the diseased are "inhabited by demons"; buries her lover; discovers herself pregnant; is raped so violently that she miscarries; and is sent out of Magdala for her own safety. The effort as a whole is lumpy. The pacing seems clotted around climactic moments, while the tone rarely goes beyond an uncomfortable mix of quasi-archaisms ("The fierce purity of our passions knotted us together on the Creator's earth" describes sexual intercourse). The plotting, too, suffers from conflicting impulses toward periodicity (e.g., the belief in demons) and contemporary sensibilities (Miriam's surprise and outrage at the men's prayer of thanks for not being born women). Readers may come away with new thoughts about a different era, but insights into a powerful Biblical figure are few and far between. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)
The ALAN Review - Margaret J. Ford
Even though the life of a saint is a non-traditional topic for a young adult novel, Donna Jo Napoli creates a powerful fictional biography for Mary Magdalene, or Miriam of Magdala, which believably embodies the bravery of Old Testament heroines like Jael, Deborah, and Miriam, her namesake. Challenging tradition, Miriam questions the role of Jewish women who forbid her to sing in the House of Prayer, travel through Magdala alone, and love the cripple, Abraham, branded an "idiot" by virtue of the twisted body that imprisons his mind. Her quest, and the novel, climax with an encounter with Joshua/Jeses, the only Biblically recorded incident in this account. The historical, cultural, and linguistic times which surround the stories of the Bible are beautifully woven into a fabric that also tells about coming of age in ancient Galilee. World history, world literature, and docudrama are only a few possible curricular links extending this novel for the high-school reader. Scholastic,
Children's Literature - Dr. Judy Rowen
Mary Magdalene is one of the most misunderstood of biblical women. This novel proposes that the "demons" that plagued her were actually epileptic seizures. These demons and her slightly unorthodox upbringing set her apart. She falls in love with Abraham, the son of her family's servant. Unfortunately, Abraham is crippled and thus considered an idiot, wholly unsuitable. As the tale ends, she has been cast out to wander through the desert. Finally, she meets the great healer, Joshua, who cures her of her demons. The story is gripping, and much is conveyed about Middle Eastern life at the turn of the century. However, some caution is required as Abraham and "Miriam" consummate, their love, and there is a fair amount of mob violence.
VOYA - Libby Bergstrom
Biblical references to Mary of Magdalene are few. In her lyrical, intense style, Napoli fills in these brief mentions by imagining the life of Mary before she was healed by Jesus. Miriam, as she would have been called in first century Palestine, suffers from fits which others, and even she herself, believe are signs of demon possession. However, Abraham, a twisted, crippled "idiot," convinces her that she suffers a disease of the body. While Miriam finds this knowledge liberating, it doesn't change the society around her. When she becomes pregnant with Abraham's child before his death, she is labeled a prostitute and is brutally raped, causing a miscarriage. She leaves Magdala, only to return later to try to find the healer, Joshua (Jesus). Still unable to accept her, the villagers begin to stone her. She is saved and healed by Joshua, and the novel ends where the Biblical accounts start, with Mary as one of the followers of Jesus. The sheer beauty of Napoli's descriptions of Miriam's thoughts and feelings are sometimes a shortcoming. She appears too insightful for her age. She is ten when the first fit occurs, yet her thoughts are those of an adult. Often, too, modern sensibilities creep in; Miriam easily leaves behind the beliefs and customs with which she would have been surrounded since she was born. These points detract from the book's sense of realism. However, the power of Napoli's investigation into the human psyche will draw YA readers into this book; Miriam is a character they will not soon forget. VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Will appeal with pushing, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Napoli has created two stories in this intriguing novel. One is the creation of a plausible explanation for the brief mentions of Mary Magdalene in the New Testament. The second is that same tale seen as a story of a young woman who finds herself an outsider. The narrative is rich with modern issues of gender, disability, violence against women, and spirituality. Miriam describes her life from age 10 to 16 when she is deeply troubled by the occurrence of "fits," which over the years come upon her 7 times. She is driven in her loneliness to explore nature and to learn the songs and poetry of her faith. Her closest relationship is with severely disabled Abraham. As teenagers, the two become lovers, briefly, before he dies. Pregnant, Miriam withdraws into herself until, after being raped, she loses the child and is forced to seek shelter elsewhere. In her travels, she hears of the great healer Joshua, or Jesus. At the end of the tale she finds him; she is cured of the seven devils and becomes a follower of the Master. Knowledge of ancient Hebrew culture, an ability to express the feelings and anguish of an intense young woman, and skillful weaving of plot and character create a gripping novel that is hard to put down. The necessity of finding an ending compatible with the Biblical scene in which Mary Magdalene first appears does in the end constrain a plot that is otherwise highly inventive and complex. Napoli has taken up a challenging and possibly controversial topic and created an interesting book that should lead readers to look further into both Old and New Testament histories.-Shirley Wilton, Ocean County College, Toms River, NJ

Product Details

Simon Pulse
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Simon Pulse Edition
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Donna Jo Napoli is the acclaimed and award-winning author of many novels, both fantasies and contemporary stories. She won the Golden Kite Award for Stones in Water in 1997. Her novel Zel was named an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, a Publishers Weekly Best Book, a Bulletin Blue Ribbon, and a School Library Journal Best Book, and a number of her novels have been selected as ALA Best Books. She is a professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband. Visit her at

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Song of the Magdalene 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Song of the Magdalene is a great book! It's sad (I cried when I read it for the first time), but it's still a really, really good book. The story of Miriam is really inspiring. I reccommend this book to anyone 12 and up.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just read this book about a month ago, and I still remember a lot of the details. It is the fictitious story of Miriam (who is mentioned in the Bible in several places as 'Mary Magdalene'), daughter of a well-respected, very liberal Jewish widower. She is quite intelligent, and has a love of singing, dancing, and nature. She defies most of the rules and laws about how a young Jewish woman should act, and is shunned by most of the village women. One day, Miriam has some kind of seizure, which confuses her, so she hides it from everyone but the household servant's invalid son, Abraham. The two grow very close, and their relationship develops into love, which no one approves of. The story is an account of Miriam's search for a place of acceptance, along with her heartaches, struggles, dreams, and, ultimately, her triumphs. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone in the 11 to 15 year age range.