What YA’ Reading: Something monstrous

Have you ever questioned what could make you into a monster? What events could drive you to become a monstrous thing? In these reads, we will explore these questions with our protagonists and ask just what we’re willing to become a monster for. 

Only a Monster by Vanessa Len

Something bad has happened. Really, really bad. This was supposed to be the best summer of Joan’s life so far. She has a summer job she loves at the historic Holland House and a budding romance with her coworker Nick. Joan’s grandmother has always referred to their family as “monsters,” but that’s just a family oddity, right? Wrong. Joan’s just learned she was born into a family that has the ability to steal time from humans to travel the timeline. As she is struggling to absorb this, well, monstrous news, she witnesses a horrifying massacre of two monster families, one of them her own. It’s up to Joan and the last surviving member of her family’s enemy family, Aaron, to fix this. 

Vanessa Len’s stunning kickoff to the Monsters trilogy begs the question, what are you willing to do to save your loved ones? Who are you willing to hurt? Are you willing to become the monster you fear you are to combat the hero who destroyed your family? This book highlights the duality of the hero/monster trope and reminds us that the role you play depends on which side you stand. 

A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell

Derry and her siblings have an unusual living situation. They live in a strange house by the lake near a dark forest, isolated from the rest of the world. They are raised by a man named Frank whom none of them are related to. In fact, none of them, except the twins, are related to each other. Frank has collected young, magical children – all female, or female identifying, just not cisgendered male children – to raise as they are persecuted by the outside world. Or that is what they were told.  

Derry has never questioned it, indeed she has never had a reason to question it, until now. Until her siblings started to go missing. Jane went missing first and Frank was frantic – did the forest take her? Could the forest take her? Then another sibling is gone. And another. Derry feels the pull of the forest, the pull of her magic. Suspicions are starting to rise in her and in her other siblings. But who or what is behind the disappearances and what is she willing to do to protect them? To save them? Whatever it takes. 

Sarah Hollowell does an amazing job of world building. The magic in this book is palpable and so is the tension as the stakes rise. This is a book that will make you hold the people you love closer and question how far you would go to keep them safe. This book also has wonderful representation of race, ability and orientation.

Medusa by Jessie Burton

Ah, Medusa. A name synonymous with monstrous myths. Are you familiar with her story? This gorgeously illustrated book offers a closer look at Medusa the woman rather than Medusa the monster. This one comes with a trigger warning, friends. As you may already know, Medusa has a tragic backstory including assault and being punished for that assault. Among those punishments was her transformation into the gorgon with a head of snakes that we associate with her name and an isolated island life. This leaves the young woman insecure, lonely and persecuted. 

We rejoin the more well-known version of the tale as Medusa’s patron goddess, Athena, abandons her with these final words, “Woe betide any man fool enough to look upon you now!” From this point, anyone whose eyes fall directly on the gorgon turn to stone.

As Medusa lives her lonely life, a man by the name of Perseus comes to her island. She warns him not to look at her and they form a friendship of sorts. Those familiar with the myth will recognize Perseus as the “hero” come to claim the monster’s head on a quest.

Jessie Burton brings new life to a well-known myth by focusing on the one called the monster. This reminds us once again that “monsters” and “heroes” are often interchangeable roles depending on the storyteller. Read this one with a box of tissues and the knowledge that you will likely be left full of despair and rage. 

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As the teen librarian, Angie organizes amazing events and online activities. She also reads a lot of YA and is eager to suggest a book you can't put down.