Monsters Among Us by Monica Rodden

monsters among us 194x294 Monsters Among Us by Monica RoddenBuy Monsters Among Us
Regular price: $19.44
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Reviewer: Melissa on Jan. 5, 2021
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Monsters Among Us is not an easy book to read. I knew going into it that it dealt with sexual assault, so that wasn’t a surprise. However, the main character, Catherine, understandably has internalized a lot of the misogyny that society imparts on women who have been raped, and this and some of the other feelings of Catharine’s that pop up early on in Monica Rodden‘s debut novel compound the emotional impact of the story. Keep this in mind if you’re interested in YA thrillers with a focus on gender-based violence.

While it is hard to read at times, there are characters who offer a voice that dissents against the status quo in really important ways. Some of these characters are fully on Catherine’s side from the get go, and they’re exactly what not only Catherine needs, but also what the reader needs in that moment. Some of the characters may make mistakes at one point in the story and don’t behave or act in the best way because they ignore their intuition or are afraid of acting to protect others. However, if you stick with the novel, you’ll realize that they may do their best to rectify the situation later. Even Catherine’s parents, who clearly love her, find their own feelings about what happened to Catherine at college get in the way of really being there for their daughter in the way she needed them to be at first, but as with many of the other flawed characters, they do overcome these setbacks and offer a more positive environment for their daughter when things go from bad to much worse. In other words, there are many bright spots in this dark and moody novel, so keep a lookout for those moments. 

While, overall, I had a good experience reading this novel, there were also some aspects that might be a downside to readers of thrillers and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention them. On the good side, I found the story compelling. It’s the kind of book that you want to read to the end to see how the author weaves all of the details together and ramps up the tension until it reaches the climax. By the time you get that far, you’ll be so invested, you’ll be unable to put the book down until all of the storylines are wrapped up in a neat bow. Moreover, while the subject matter is kind of dark and even gets darker the further into the novel you get, it is handled sensitively. Also, Catherine’s character arc demonstrates growth and strength, which could definitely be aspirational for other survivors who pick it up. At the same time, it could help quiet a lot of the misogyny that some readers will have internalized from their family, friends, significant others, and society at large just by being who they are. 

While there is a lot of good, I would be remiss if I didn’t share a few cons about this book. If, like many people, you decide whether to pick up a book based on the descriptions, then you might pick this one up expecting it to be like Sadie by Courtney Summers and You by Charles Benoit. I’ve read both of these books, one of them multiple times, and it doesn’t match up to the best things about either of them. Rather this is a situation where the marketing for the book is trying to hook readers with a comparison to popular YA thrillers, which is a stretch. Yes, Monsters Among Us is a feminist book like Sadie, but it doesn’t have the podcast aspect or the first person present voice that made Summers’ book so great. And yes, the reader is given an impression about a scene that isn’t a true depiction of what actually happened like You, but it doesn’t have quite the same shocking reversal as Benoit’s novel and isn’t written in second person. If you’re specifically looking for the next Sadie or You, then you may be disappointed, but if you don’t come with those expectations, then you’ll find that Monsters Among Us is great in its own way. Last, but not least, I was able to spot the perpetrator of one of the crimes from the first moment that character was introduced. At some point along the way, I doubted my initial intuition, but by the climax—if not before—I learned I was right all along. Some thriller readers may be disappointed if they, like me, could see the perpetrator a mile away.

Beyond the theme of sexual assault, I knew that Monsters Among Us was marketed to me as a retelling of Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë before I picked it up. Even though this classic is my least favourite Brontë novel, I still was interested in reading Rodden’s debut. I would say that it’s not a strict retelling. In other words, if you weren’t a huge fan of Wuthering Heights, then I wouldn’t necessarily let it dissuade you from picking up this book.

There were a  few things I didn’t expect but rather enjoyed. First, I liked how Rodden incorporates other literary allusions and themes throughout the novel. In particular, the allusions to various fairy tales was something that I appreciated, and if you also have a few books of fairytales on your bedside table, then you, too, might be happy for this inclusion. Second, the dedication to this novel hit me right in the feels. I don’t want to say anything more so it can have the same effect on anyone who does decide to pick it up, but just know that it’s the kind of dedication that will sing for survivors of sexual assault and those who know someone who was sexually assaulted. And with good reason.

While there are many positives to Monsters Among Us, at least for me, you might want to pass on this one if knowing the identity of the perpetrator will ruin it for you or if you were only interested in the book because it was being compared to some bestselling YA thrillers of the past.

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