The Monster Librarian Presents:
Reviews of Something Different aka Unique Horror Related Fiction
Horror related or themed books that don’t quite fit into any other category.
Wuftoom by Mary G. Thompson*New Review
Available: New hardcover, paperback, and Kindle edition
Deformed by disease, Evan’s only visitor and caretaker is his mother, until he is visited by a wormlike creature of the dark who informs Evan that he is transforming into a Wuftoom . Desperate to hang on to his humanity, Evan resists. Then he is visited by another creature, a Vitfly, who offers Evan a chance to possess another person for his remaining days as a human, if he will betray the Wuftoom, enemies of the Vitflys. Evan seizes the opportunity, but the Wuftoom force him to expose his host to goo that will transform him as well. Once transformed, Evan is forced to go into the sewers with the Wuftoom, but promises his mother that he will return. The Vitflys remind him of his promise and threaten his mother unless he follows through. As Evan grows used to being Wuftoom , he starts to feel guilty about betraying them, but his love for his mother outweighs his guilt. He rescues his mother but fails to trick the Vitflys , who almost completely destroy the Wuftoom. In saving Wuftoom friends and comrades, Evan truly finds his place among the Wuftoom.
The beginning of Wuftoom has similarities to Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Evan starts out as a sympathetic character—how could I not feel sympathy for a deformed boy alone in the dark, metamorphosing into a grotesque, wormlike creature that lives in the sewers? Evan’s visitor seemed callous and unpleasant, and it was easy to see why Evan would make a deal with the equally disturbing Vitfly. Betrayal of a creepy creature like the Wuftoom seemed a small price to pay for Evan to have a few days of life in the sun, especially after he was forced to trick Jordan into becoming a Wuftoom .
But while Wuftoom society is grim, primitive, violent, and eats intelligent creatures (described in disturbing detail), as distinct personalities emerged, they became more sympathetic , and Evan became much less likable. Evan’s struggle as to whether to save his mother and hang onto his humanity or to accept his destiny as a Wuftoom, becomes much more than existential angst, though, when he emerges into his former bedroom and sees his terrified mother in front of him, while an injured Wuftoom mentor suffers behind him. As much as I disliked Evan at this point , it’s undeniable that he has set himself up in a horrifying, no-win situation. While he is able to let go of his mother and accept his transformation by the end of the book, her life is in ruins, and Evan’s actions have led to the almost complete destruction of the Wuftoom—not a hopeful ending.
Mary Thompson is gifted at shifting perspectives, both of characters and of readers. She does an excellent job of taking the recognizable (The Metamorphosis) and turning it in an unexpected direction. Her creativity in world-building and creature creation, and her ability to describe the disturbing and grotesque is impressive. Wuftoom is targeted to ages 12 and older, and I don’t recommend it for younger children. The book is genuinely scary, and Evan’s dilemma is beyond the understanding of most elementary aged children. Wuftoom is better targeted at a middle school audience, which might be able to handle the ambiguities of the story and deal with a largely unsympathetic protagonist more successfully. Wuftoom is certainly not for everyone, but it’s definitely an interesting choice for a middle school library.
Contains: Violence and gore
Reviewed by: Kirsten Kowalewski
Across the Universe by Beth Revis
Amy chose to go into cryogenic storage with her parents on the spaceship Godspeed, believing she’d wake up a hundred years later to help establish a new world. Instead, she wakes up early, to discover that society has drastically altered, with a dictatorial leader, Eldest, in charge of an unquestioning, monoethnic, monocultural populace.
Elder is Eldest’s heir apparent, and one day will be the Godspeed’s leader himself. Amy’s appearance is unsettling to him. She both looks and acts differently from anyone else on the ship, and the events that follow her arrival force him to consider the ethics of Elder’s decisions, and undermine his assumptions about leadership.
As I read Across the Universe I was reminded over and over of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, a powerful story about a society where individual rights have been given up for the greater good. Rather than only presenting the point of view of Jonas, who has no frame of reference outside his own society, as Lowry does, Revis uses alternating points of view, with Amy and Elder playing off each other’s unfamiliar ways of looking at the world, giving the reader a wider view. I find that I keep going back to this book to reread and rethink the ideas here. This is not only a book of ideas, though- there’s a mystery, plenty of action, and even a whisper of romance. Amy and Elder are compelling characters, and secondary characters like Elder’s friend Harley are interesting and well developed as well.
That said, recommend it with caution- elementary aged children who have read The Giver may not be ready for some of the material. The scene at the beginning where Amy and her family are cryogenically frozen is extremely disturbing and claustrophobic, and there’s an attempted rape later on. The writing, story, and ideas are handled deftly, though, and I can’t recommend this book highly enough for both older teens and adults. Recommended for ages 14 and up.
Contains: attempted rape, suicide, euthanasia, violence, sexual situations
Reviewed by: Kirsten Kowalewski
The Man on Mystery Hill by Tracy L. Carbone
Abby McNabb’s father is “eccentric,” at least according to the rest of the town. He believes in ghosts and aliens, and he’s passed that on to Abby. When a mysterious spirit hints to Abby that her father might not be from this planet, it’s up to her to figure out the truth. Is it possible that her father is an alien?
There were some interesting concepts in this book, particularly with the idea of aliens having the ability to “possess” human bodies. It also takes place in a great setting (America’s Stonehenge) that would fascinate anyone, particularly kids who have visited the site. However, the writing was very poor, and the characterization and voice were almost non-existent. The plot had a little too much going on, and didn’t seem to follow a strong arc of any kind. Carbone goes into the head of adults again and again, which usually bores kids.
This book is not recommended for most libraries. It might be of interest in Massachusetts, where the story takes place and where kids can relate to the setting. The only other time I would recommend it is if a child adores aliens and has read every other book on the subject. But otherwise, I think most would find it dull.
Reviewed by Cherylynne W. Bago
A Scaly Tale (Ripley’s RBI #1) by Ripley’s Believe it or Not!
Ripley Publishing, 2010
Availability: New and Used
The Ripley’s Bureau of Investigation (RBI) is a collection of teenagers that go on undercover missions to uncover the truth about reports of the unbelievable. In A Scaly Tale, there are rumors of a man-like lizard living in the Everglades, and it’s up to them to determine whether or not the rumor is true…all while being hampered by the Department of Unbelievable Lies (DUL), their archenemies.
A Scaly Tale is fast-paced and had plenty of action, with terrifying Florida creatures around every corner. It is perfect for reluctant readers, particularly 3rd or 4th grade boys. There are Ripley fact boxes every few pages, with interesting trivia about creatures the characters encounter in the story. The plot wandered quite a bit, and it felt like the story was built on the facts that they wanted to fit in rather than rising organically from the characters. However, I think that upper elementary boys will like it, and that is one of the most difficult ages to find novels for.
I recommend this book for most libraries, particularly if they find that each year’s copy of the original Ripley’s Believe it or Not disappears from the shelf constantly.
Contains: Depictions of real people who have made bizarre modifications to their bodies(from the Ripley’s database).
]Reviewed by Cherylynne W. Bago
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
Penguin Group, 2010
Kelly Link taps into teenagers’ darkest emotions in Pretty Monsters. The selfishness and ego of a boy who attempts to dig up his dead girlfriend’s grave so he can reclaim the poetry he buried with her; the anger and fear at being singled out; the cruelty friends and siblings can visit on each other; ambivalence toward parents; the unhealthy fantasies that shape thoughts and actions. The main characters in these stories aren’t always monsters, and they usually have sympathetic or likable characteristics, but the stories depend on what’s going on beyond the façade. Her writing packs a powerful punch.
Link frequently uses metafictive devices, speaking directly to the reader from a story, or framing and linking multiple narratives. Although she uses these techniques skillfully, they can be confusing for readers used to linear narratives, and multiple readings can lead to a richer experience. A great example of this is the title story, “Pretty Monsters”, which fits three sets of girls together through books. Link also frequently ends her stories in an abrupt manner, which left this reader with her heart in her throat more than once! Two of my favorite stories, “Monster” and “The Cinderella Game”, used it quite effectively! Her writing is also very evocative. In “The Wrong Grave”, I can tell you exactly what Gloria looked like! There’s humor, too, although for the most part it’s very black.
Pretty Monsters contains stories across genres. Some are clearly set in a fantasy world, and one is even science fiction. I loved “The Wizards of Perfil”, which illustrates that there can be hope even when everything seems like an exercise in futility, but I would say that Link’s strength is in writing about the experiences of contemporary teens, infused with her own sense of the magical, eerie, and bizarre. Much of Link’s award-winning work is contained in this volume, so you get a good representation of what she has accomplished, as well as newer work. The illustrations by Shaun Tan and quotes that precede each story add a different perspective, and the cover design and art are striking.
Readers with a love for the bizarre and a clear memory of the teenage years, as well as the young adult audience these stories are intended for, will fall head over heels for these stories. Although it certainly isn’t for everyone, Pretty Monsters is an original and unique title that ought to be in every young adult collection. Highly recommended.
Contains: gravedigging, mild sexual references and kissing, violence and murder
Review by Kirsten Kowalewski
Kirsten gets a chance to interview Kelly Link, read the interview here.
Brian Selznick (The Boy With A Thousand Faces) has once again produced a homage to early horror movies. Fourteen year old Hugo Cabret winds the clocks of a busy Paris train station in secrecy, hoping that nobody will notice the absence of his uncle, the station's timekeeper. Successfully hiding his existence from the station inspector, Hugo is attempting to repair a broken automaton his clockmaker father discovered in a museum fire. When the old man who runs the station's toy stall confiscates the notebook with his plans, Hugo's attempts to recover it draw him into discoveries about the old man's mysterious past, the creator of the automaton, and the maker of the first horror movies. Using the conventions of early French cinema, Brian Selznick tells much of the story visually, using black and white pencil drawings, using only 26,000 words in 511 pages. An astonishing and unique expression of the novel form, combining elements of picture book, graphic novel, and film to create a new kind of reading experience, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is an atmospherically creepy story that no lover of early horror movies should miss. Recommended for all libraries, for readers from upper elementary to adult, and especially for reluctant readers and mystery lovers. Contains: theft, references to the devil. Review by Francesca the Librarian
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