YA Weekend: Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of Monument 14
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (June 5, 2012)
Author Information: Website | Twitter
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
A little bit like Lord of the Flies meets The Breakfast Club meets The Mist, Monument 14 is about a group of children holed up in a superstore after a freak hailstorm causes a chemical leak from the nearby weapons manufacturing site, leading to contamination of the whole town.
On the surface, this book seemed like it had a lot of potential. Books featuring kids in stressful, survival situations always seem more chilling and disturbing to me than books starring their adult counterparts. Children, after all, are the picture of ultimate innocence; in an ideal world we wish to protect them from all the troubles and anxieties of adulthood. Even most adults would be ill-prepared to handle a sudden disaster, so I can’t even imagine how much worse the burden of responsibility would be to a teenager. Without strong guidance and a lack of organization, it’s not surprising how quickly a group situation can devolve.
The kids in this book range from ages 5 to 17, all stranded passengers from a couple of school buses that were wrecked by the severe storm. Naturally, a hierarchy of leadership develops, with the older teens taking care of the young’uns. The dynamics are made more interesting by the differences not only in the characters’ ages, but also in their personalities, backgrounds and upbringing. Unfortunately, this does mean that almost everyone is pigeonholed into rather predictable and clichéd stereotypes. Main protagonist and narrator Dean is the “booker”, a quiet and somewhat awkward late-bloomer who has long harbored a secret love for Astrid, the popular and perfect hot girl. Astrid however is the girlfriend of Jake, the football jock. Among the high-schoolers, there’s also the bully/bad boy Brayden, the solemn and live-by-the-book Boy Scout Niko, who happens to have a thing for the kind and motherly Josie. The roles are cast, and the stage is set for some serious teenage drama.
The younger kids actually proved more intriguing and to have more well-rounded personalities. A couple of them genuinely surprised me, displaying a level of maturity and problem solving skills that even surpassed some of the teenagers’. In fact, I think one of the book’s main weaknesses is its gradual divergence from the “we’re all in this together” theme towards a greater emphasis on the relationships and soap-opera aspects of the older kids. The story was a lot more engaging at the beginning when the whole group dealt with the challenges of surviving together, addressing issues like mob mentality, who should be in charge, and how to explain the situation to the elementary children who are frightened and don’t understand why they can’t go home. Once the focus shifted to become more about “who’s crushing on whom”, the book became more typical and less special in my eyes.
While I loved the premise, another strike against this book is the whole reason why Dean and the other kids are trapped in the superstore. The explanation given – that the chemical leak is a gas causing different reactions based on the exposed victim’s blood type – is a bit weak and unconvincing. Victims with O-type blood will become mindless violent savages, while another type would break out in boils and blisters, while yet another type would experience no outward signs but may suffer infertility and reproductive difficulties, etc. Leaving aside how such an absurd model of symptoms made me want to bash my head against the wall, the theory of the chemical disaster did not feel that well thought out. It felt like the author needed a reason to put the kids in this particular jam, and seized upon the first idea to come to mind without fleshing it out, giving it more logic or detail. Perhaps that’s why the book also threw in the extreme weather and a massive disaster on the east coast, just to make the situation bigger and severe than it is.
As expected, Monument 14 also left off on a cliffhanger (these days, I’d be shocked if a YA novel didn’t). Still, it’s a strong start, with a great idea to work with, and just a tad wobbly on the execution. I haven’t decided if I want to continue with the series yet. Looks like it’ll be another short, quick read, so if the opportunity arises, I may take it.