Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Reviews - The Monstrumologist, Boy Toy and 13 Reasons Why

Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

As heavy issues like child sexual abuse become more common to discuss in the social arena (used to be nobody talked about stuff like this), books with characters like Josh will also be more available. At least we can hope that. We can hope that some writers will stand up and be courageous and write about things that real children sometimes face, even when those things are ugly or horrible. I think books like this are important. I don't think they're for everyone. I wouldn't recommend to everyone I know to read this book. I believe it would be inappropriate for some readers. I have a friend who is quite sensitive, and there are two books in this alone post alone that I wouldn't recommend to her. But there is an audience for this book.

Josh is struggling with the aftereffects of the sexual abuse he endured at the hands of his seventh grade female history teacher when he was twelve. Five years later, he suffers from flashbacks and emotional overload, confusion about relationships and about his own sense of self.

Boy Toy was a riveting read. Frightening, powerful and disturbing. There are undoubtedly children who have gone through experiences like these. Many of these children suffer in silence, confused about their abusers, their relationships and their identities. Books like Boy Toy can help bring a child (or adult still struggling with such issues) out of isolation. If this book reached one person who needed to be reached, I would consider it to have fulfilled its purpose. If someone comes to an understanding after reading this book, about themselves, or someone else, I would consider Barry Lyga's job well done.

Boy Toy is a harrowing book infused with pain. It reminded me a lot of Speak. Speaking of Speak, all the things I said about Boy Toy apply to Speak as well. The incidences of teen rape are much higher than incidences of teachers seducing underage students I'm sure, but the pain experienced by the characters felt just as authentic and raw to me. Thank you Barry Lyga and Laurie Halse Anderson for writing about things that are uncomfortable, so that we can expand our view, open dialogues and begin to heal.

Warning: Boy Toy is graphic. There's also language. As I said, it's not for everyone.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Hannah Baker killed herself. Clay Jensen wondered why. Now, thanks to a box of cassette tapes that arrived on his doorstep, he'll find out.

Jay Asher uses an interesting format, combining two simultaneous narratives. One comes in the epistolary form: Hannah's voice on the tapes, listing thirteen people and their actions that affected her and added to her decision to commit suicide. The other narrative: Clay's inner dialogue... I guess I should say monologue, in reaction to what he's hearing. Over the course of twenty-four hours, Clay follows a Hannah-made map and listens to what could make a girl decide not to live anymore.

Asher puts forth the interesting idea that "everything affects everything". There are no isolated incidents. One thing always leads to another. Thirteen Reasons Why: fascinating format, tightly woven narrative and well-developed characters. Contemporary topics of suicide, bullying, sexual harrassment and date rape are explored with sensitivity and insight.

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

Twelve-year old orphan Will Henry is assistant apprentice to Pellinore Warthrop, an emotionally unstable scientist dedicated to the study of monsters. Set in the late 1800's, Will Henry's narrative begins with the discovery of a specific kind of monster in the New England area. Over the course of the tale, Will's faith in his caretaker is tested as they attempt to forestall something horrible: the infestation of a new predator on the North American continent, the terrible Anthropophogai. (I think that's how you spell it.)

I'm not sure exactly why Yancey chose to set Will Henry's story when he did, or why to use the complicated prose he did, but I applaud both choices. The Monstrumologist is like HP Lovecraft for kids (older kids). Well-written and scary. Such words as: rheumy, acumen, pate, immutability, disparate, fortitude, piety, congeal, appear in the text.

Now, those of you who know the manuscript I'm working on will appreciate my reasons for loving The Monstrumologist so much.

1. The main character of this very dark novel is twelve.

2. The vocabulary is ambitious. Stylistic. EDUCATIONAL.

3. Did I mention that it's dark? That it will appeal to readers of all ages? (I wouldn't recommend it to a young reader, it is quite scary.)

Be warned: blood, gore, body parts, corpses and ravenous monsters abound. And pus. There's quite a bit of pus that I wasn't expecting. And gore. Did I mention the gore?

Hats off to Rick Yancey for crafting a page-turner of densely packed prose that features a monster I've never read a story about. It was fun. And in the case of Will Henry's character development, a bit touching as well. Those who like Lovecraft will enjoy The Monstrumologist. Read it with the lights on.

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