Sunday, June 17, 2012

Review: MONUMENT 14 by Emmy Laybourne

Your mother hollers that you’re going to miss the bus. She can see it coming down the street. You don’t stop and hug her and tell her you love her. You don’t thank her for being a good, kind, patient mother. Of course not—you launch yourself down the stairs and make a run for the corner.Only, if it’s the last time you’ll ever see your mother, you sort of start to wish you’d stopped and did those things. Maybe even missed the bus.But the bus was barreling down our street, so I ran.Fourteen kids. One superstore. A million things that go wrong. 

In Emmy Laybourne’s action-packed debut novel, six high school kids (some popular, some not), two eighth graders (one a tech genius), and six little kids trapped together in a chain superstore build a refuge for themselves inside. While outside, a series of escalating disasters, beginning with a monster hailstorm and ending with a chemical weapons spill, seems to be tearing the world—as they know it—apart.
After showcasing this book in my Wishlist Wednesday post, I knew I had to get my hands on it as soon as it hit my store. Unfortunately, by the time I did get Monument 14, I'd just finished This Is Not A Test (see my review here), and was a little wary of picking up another apocalyptic book.

Oh, and for the record, I am such an idiot. One of the things I just HAD TO KNOW, was what Monument 14 actually was. Some sort of monolith? A piece of jettisoned alien technology that kickstarted the apocalypse? A super-secret government base? ... Uh, actually, the fourteen kids from the town of Monument. D'oh. I'm not usually so thick, I promise.
The book started out pretty well. As the blurb promises, no one has any clue that this day will be any different. The narrator, Dean, barely manages to make his bus. Behind him, his brother Alex boards the "little kid bus." They take off down the street toward school. The popular kids sit in the back and talk about stuff. The hippie environmentalist kids sit just behind Alex and talk about other stuff. Just another typical day with the typical groups of high school kids talking about the same, typical stuff.

Until hail the size of footballs fall from the sky. Until the bus flips over in the parking lot of a local Greenway and covers the students with the blood of their peers. Until those six high schoolers find themselves in charge of a group of scared little kids in a locked superstore with no way to escape.

The beginning hit all the right notes for me. It was such a sleepy little opener, one that let us glimpse at the different relationships already in place. Even when things started getting crazy with the hail and the cussing bus driver, it felt more like an adventure movie than anything too horrific.

Then kids died. I mean, really died. Crushed to death in front of your eyes kind of died.

The little kids bus driver helps all the students get safely into the store and then sets off to find help. The gates close, locking the students inside. They are their own community, sealed off from the rest of the world.

From an analytical perspective, I liked the way Laybourne handled the deaths and the start of the apocalypse. Someone (I don't remember who - if you know, tell me in the comments) described Monument 14 as apocalypse lite, meant more for younger YA readers than the more intense This Is Not A Test, which I think is a pretty accurate description for most of the book.

People die. The kids freak out. One is catatonic from shock. Then a chemical spill smacks the reeling population upside the head with some pretty crazy side effects. There's definitely an apocalypse going down in this book, but it's never so much that the kids can't handle it. They have leaders in the form of two charismatic jocks, a hard-nosed cheerleader (Dean's crush), and a boy everyone calls Brave Hunter Man. There's some in-fighting, some tension, and some really punk kids, but I never felt too overwhelmed or depressed reading the story. There was ALWAYS hope.

Really, the first half or so of the book was pretty fun. When I was a kid, I dreamed of living in a Walmart. I mean, there's everything you need right there. It's like the world's biggest closet and toy chest all in one! The kids organize themselves promptly. They form their own mini-civilization, dictating things like baths, meal times, and sleeping arrangements. I'm way past my Walmart-dwelling fantasies, but I did enjoy the little spurts of wish fulfillment.

But that was the first half. In the second half, Laybourne lets things go a bit to pot. Some things (like older kids jockeying for power and taking sides) were realistic and inevitable. Some things, in my opinion, were unnecessary and rather nausea-inducing. There's a character, one of the eight-graders, who makes it clear she wants to be one of the big kids. Unfortunately, being a big kid to her means dressing like a stripper and acting like a hooker.

The adult half of my brain clinically recognized that she was probably raised in a somewhat dysfunctional household, that attention-seeking and acting out is to be expected in times of stress, etc. etc. The other half of my brain freaked out that I was reading a book about a thirteen-year-old... well, slut. Ick ick ick.

In the same vein, I really didn't appreciate the element Laybourne introduced to force the climax. The arrival of said element and its sudden inclusion into the Greenway group felt forced and contrived. And then the way everything went down? ICK. No, no, no, no, no.

In the end, Dean has to make a choice. I won't tell you what the choice was, but I found it pretty stupid. I get why Laybourne made it happen and I can guess where the next book is going to go, but I was disappointed in Dean. He came off as a bit of a pushover.

In my opinion, this book could have used a bit more polishing before publication. The different feels for the two halves seemed at odds with each other. Was this book intended for the younger end of YA, as the first half suggests, or the older end, as the second half suggests? I think the progression of the story, especially the climax and resolution, could have happened more organically. Still, I liked enough of the book to want to follow the characters (especially certain little kids) into the next book.

Points Added For: The little kids (so much fun!), living in a superstore, keeping it upbeat, Niko (Brave Hunter Man), Josie.

Points Subtracted For: An element that comes out of left field, Astrid, thirteen-year-olds in thongs.

Good For Fans Of: Apocalypse lite, living in a superstore, really funny little kids.

Notes For Parents: Language (male body parts, "holy ___", sob, etc.), violence, pedophilia, attempted rape, one heavy makeout scene (topless).

Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide