Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What Makes the Monster?

The Monstrumologist
by Rick Yancey
Michael L. Printz Honor Book 2010

Every October, my book club tries to read a spooky YA book. Last year's selection was The Graveyard Book, so I suppose with that in mind, I can understand why other members of our group were expecting harmless ghouls to be the focus of Yancey's new work. Of course, they were terribly wrong, as the book is extremely graphic and reads somewhere between a penny-dreadful and 18th century Gothic literature. To give an example, the book begins with a vivid description of how an anthropophagus (the featured monster of the book) has not only eaten the corpse of a virginal girl, but impregnated it, as well. Worse, the anthropophagus fetus is still alive, so our twelve year old protagonist, Will Henry, must watch as his master, Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, aborts the abomination. This book is definitely not for the squeamish.

Will and the doctor spend the entirety of the novel trying to thwart other massacres at the claws of the anthropophagi, which we learn much later in the novel are in New England because of a failed experiment of Warthrop's father. Both Doctors Warthrop, as well as the characters of Dr. Starr and Jack Kearns, present various degrees of morality, and through them, one of the major themes of the work is explored: What makes a monster? Is a monster a creature of nightmare who feeds upon human flesh? Or can it be something more human? A man so dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge that he endangers innocents? Or a man who becomes his monstrous prey, no longer retaining any sense of compassion or empathy? Though Yancey never directs the reader's thoughts to any particular answer, the well-planned plot leads the reader to question the motives of all involved.

Presented as a journal compiled by Will later in life and given to the author, The Monstrumologist is written in a characteristically Victorian style, replete with verbose sentences spanning several lines of text and sundry literary allusions. For a reluctant reader, it may prove a bit challenging, but the subject matter and amount of gore should be enough to keep the attention of most. Being a fan of Victorian and Gothic literature, this book was a welcome change to much of the YA I have been reading recently, and I highly anticipate the next installment Curse of the Wendigo, which was released several weeks ago.

Grade: A+

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