I feel like I need to start with a disclaimer that I have a certain nostalgia for boarding school books, having been stuck in one myself. Even if that weren’t the case, I think this book would still be a stand out for me. I grabbed Monster in an airport a few months ago because the blurb really caught me, but Horror isn’t usually my genre of choice so I didn’t rush to open it – that was a mistake on my part.
We start in our boarding school on the moors (of course it’s on a moor) and the only hint of the Gothic darkness that’s to come is in the descriptions of the sordid history of the school. I quite liked it, it felt like being told the scary stories that the sixth formers might use to faze the little ones, it tied the creepiness and the boarding school setting together very nicely. Combine that with the local legend of the monster that everyone seems to simultaneously believe and yet not believe really, you get a feel for both the isolation caused by horror and that inescapable ‘hive mind’ people often find themselves fighting in school dramas.
I was skeptical of the protagonist at first, but I warmed up to her once the status quo had been established, then bypassed, and she really came into her own. Admirable, yet flawed, and by the end she’s progressed beyond even that, the only nay say I have for her is her baffling taste in men. But I’m approaching spoiler territory so I won’t say more than that.
This next part is very difficult for me to talk about, as I have one complaint about the book, but I also don’t see how it could possibly have been fixed without forsaking its biggest strength. I will explain myself:
Monster really stood out for me because it was such a tightly woven narrative, nothing is wasted, no scene, no character, no idea. I loved that everyone had their role and interesting personalities. No one had the role of ‘horror character’ whose around to get turned into mincemeat for plot purposes, which I liked. But this is what leads into the tiniest complaint I had; because the narrative is so tight there are only a few cast members to start pointing fingers at, which does limit the mystery somewhat. I don’t want to spoil as everyone is different so perhaps you won’t come to the conclusions I did and I’ll be alone in this, but what I thought to be the red herring was just how things were.
Fact of the matter is, bar a drop of disappointment, that didn’t matter at all, because the story is told incredibly well. I really enjoyed the writing style, it was simplistic without being simple, the author has a serious talent for description, her dialogue balances well and the books culmination is executed in a heart pounding way.
Another quick disclaimer before I wrap up: I am the type of person who locks all the doors after watching ‘Shaun of the Dead’, I am very easily frightened. I didn’t find Monster frightening. At all. So while I still recommend this book for what it does if you’re looking for a true horror, I would advise you to continue your search.
All you really need to know though, is that I picked up Monster at six in the evening, and it was finished before I started work the next day, so I clearly enjoyed it, not perfect, but it made a good, fast paced, YA read.