Friday, December 24, 2010

YA Book Review: The Monstrumologist

Why different novels appeal to each of us varies according to our tastes or even where we are in our lives at that particular point.  Our tastes in music may change along with our tastes in clothing, food, or hobby.

In Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing the confirmed bachelor Benedick argues as much, "Doth not the appetite alter? A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age..."

The plot of Rick Yancey's YA horror novel The Monstrumologist appeals to a very specific audience: YA boysI state this for a number reasons outlined below, not the least of which is that almost every female character in the novel is shredded and gobbled by horrific monsters...and the heroes are male.  Yet it is much more than a horror story.  Yancey has coated this entertaining tale with a challenging vocabulary along with the promise of more --this is one novel in a series.  It seems nothing in hotter in YA literature than the serial novel.  True, it isn't written released chapter by chapter as readers experienced with Dickens, but this first novel is a compilation of three journals from a larger bundle of journals.  They were kept by a man who lived to be a 130 years old.  As a young boy he had been taken in to be cared for by what is known as a Monstrumologist --someone who studies and hunts monsters.  The promise is that subsequent novels will be formed by the remaining journals which recorded this unique and curious life.  Very clever.

What is enormously appealing about this novel is that it reads and feels like English Romanticism.  The novel brought me back to college lectures by Dr. Marilyn Gaul about this period of literature and art.  I can't forget her introducing us to Henry Fusili's 18th century painting entitled "The Nightmare" --the demon perched atop the sleeping woman, and that wild-eyed steed peering in on each.  One of the reviews plastered on the novel is that it is a cross between Mary Shelley and Stephen King.  That review nailed it. This book does not disappoint.

It is a great YA novel in terms of introducing kids to this genre of storytelling.  As much as Frankenstein is someone's journal, so too is this book...reading this is not a large leap to either Shelley and Stoker for a 13 year old.  The story will absolutely sweep kids away, particularly boys, and the vocabulary will keep them challenged.  It is a vocabulary beyond many 8th  grader's core knowledge, but not beyond their ability to stretch and learn vocabulary in the process.  I know many of my students will love this book for both its story and its challenges.

I love that the novel takes its classical heritage as deep as it could possibly go for the monsters which are hunted are from Herodotus and Shakespeare: the Antropophagi.  Headless creatures with shark-like mouths in their chests, and black soulless eyes in their shoulders.  Written about many times in ancient literature, Yancey brings them to life.  There is nothing silly or unrealistic as odd as that may sound.  Also, one of the monster hunters in the book just may be a young Jack the Ripper...the novel suggests as much.

Horror has taken some peculiar twists in the cinema, especially since latex was discovered in the 80s, and a lot of my students' only interaction with horror at this point has only been with what is accessible through film: the Saw series, Paranormal Activity, Halloween, etc.  Some students have of course discovered Stephen King, but King is our century...not that there is anything wrong with any of it.  I bring it up simply to underscore the impressively classical feel and scope of this YA novel.  It is terrific YA literature worthy of a spot on your classroom shelf.

Perhaps it received one its greatest compliments from one of my female students who saw it on my desk; after confirming that I was reading it, she uttered, "That book was gross...I couldn't sleep any night that I read it."

Highly recommended --mainly for the great gross storytelling... the workout your kids will get with vocabulary is just an added bonus.

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