Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne #BookReview

Title: Monument 14 | Series: Monument 14 #1 | Author: Emmy Laybourne | Publisher: Feiwel & Friends | Pub. Date: 2012-6-5 | Pages: 294 | ISBN13: 9780312569037 | Genre: Young Adult Dystopian | Language: English | Triggers: Attempted rape of a minor |  Rating: 2 out of 5 | Source: Self-purchased


Monument 14

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.

Book cover for Monument 14

Monument 14 Review

I picked up Monument 14 when I was on a read-and-relax trip to my local Barnes & Noble. It had been a long week and I need some alone time with books. Monument 14 caught my eye, and I can’t particularly say I know why. The cover art is far from amazing, the superstore plot is more than a little cliche, and it didn’t look like it was going to be anything special, at all. Still, it looked like a bit of no-think fluff, so I grabbed it and a latte and settled down.

Emmy Laybourne’s writing immediately amused me. Not in the ‘it’s terrible’ way, either. I loved the way she described Mrs. Wooly. There was a scene describing one of the little kids that had me snickering enough that I showed it to one of my fellow bookworms.

{The kid who is observing Chloe is tied up and just coming to.}

“There I saw Chloe, freshly bathed, wrapped in a towel, eating fun-size butterfingers one after another like a chain smoker and watching me like I was her soap opera.”

― Emmy LaybourneMonument 14

Unfortunately, at about the halfway point (maybe before) it feels like all this descriptive charm disappears, and the novel settles down into competent but lackluster prose. Even then, I was hooked until the end.

I do like the range of ages in Monument 14. The fact that there’s a strong mix of little kids and teenagers keeps it decidedly more interesting than if it had just been teenagers. I don’t care for how the characters are profiled, though. From the chubby Mexican kid who speaks broken English but has awesome dance moves to the black girl being the one who is a natural mother/babysitter figure for the kids.  Also, I really don’t like the relationships between the characters. I’m not going to rag too hard on the author for it, because at the age most of these kids are, I can buy that they would be emulating behaviors that they observe in adults (no matter how wrong it is). The boys assume the dominant role and protect the group, and the girls are expected to take care of the kids and obey the boys. However, given that it’s the author’s world and she’s not writing non-fiction, she had the opportunity to create a more positive interaction of equality between the sexes and chose not to.

The ‘adult’ scenes in Monument 14 are an issue. Most of this book does not feel like a young adult book. It has a lot of a middle-grade feel to it. And then those scenes happen. I feel like this would have been a better book if they aimed it at tweens instead of going for the young adult genre. That would have enabled them to cut out some of the more problematic aspects, like the thirteen year old who starts out as just having a sense of ‘style’ and quickly turns into the resident “insert sexy punky character here” for this type of book. She’s thirteen, quickly begins dressing to draw all the boys attention, is chided for it, told she’s asking for attention, etc. Obviously, because you just can’t have a dystopian without an attempted sexual assault on a female character…(and hint, it wasn’t a white guy who made the assault either.) Well, you are all intelligent enough to know where I’m heading with this. And then there’s scenes involving certain parts being named after Disney characters, and talk of erectile dysfunction and…yeah. It’s just a bit weird.

It’s odd, because while some of this bothered me while I was reading Monument 14, I was so wrapped up in the story that it was mostly easy to ignore them. It was only after I sat down to write the review with some distance from the experience of the story itself that I realized how much some of it bothered me.

Monument 14 is very nicely paced. The story itself is well told. The action and the uncertainty kept me entertained. (Keep in mind I like ridiculous disaster movies, so the unbelievability of the disasters in this book didn’t bother me one bit.) I liked how little of a part the adults actually play in the book, without it having a Gone feel. I liked that while some of the kids definitely had skills, there was no absurdly gifted or talented kid to play an important role. Instead they all did the best they could, but were never exceedingly or unbelievably talented.

I think Emmy Laybourne is a gifted story-teller, and with a few skillful cuts or simple changes, Monument 14 could have been a great read. It was definitely an entertaining one, even with the aforementioned issues. I can’t recommend Monument 14 and I won’t be continuing with the series. However, I wouldn’t be adverse to revisiting this author in a different series from where she’s got a few more years of experience under her belt. 

I really, really waffled on this rating. And I’m still not sure it deserves a two instead of a three, but there’s some stuff you can’t overlook. You know? Jesus, this type of book is dangerous. It’s dangerous because it’s so entertaining its easy to accept what the author lays out as just a good story, and therefore buy into subtle (Or not so subtle) reinforcement of almost every stereotype and societal problem out there. Look, I don’t expect authors to portray perfect worlds with the exact mix of characters, and be careful not to offend anyone. I really don’t. That would make a lot of books boring. However, I do think that authors need to think about the impact, especially for young adult and middle grade reads, that their words can have on readers. (I can tell you that a lot of my personal beliefs and idiosyncrasies came from the books that I read as a teenager. A lot of them. So I know the impact books can have.) They need to be mindful of what their characters and what the non-plot actions of their characters can and does say.

And we, as readers, need to occasionally step back and say “You know what? This is not okay.” We need to be able to acknowledge that even though a story was entertaining, that doesn’t mean that the actions, stereotyping, etc, that are displayed in a book are good.

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