Title: Monument 14
Author: Emmy Laybourne
Genre: science fiction, post-apocalyptic, young-adult, survival
Series: N/A as of yet, forthcoming
Pages: 320 (nook ARC edition)
Published: expected June 5 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
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 hurdle 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.
In Emmy Laybourne’s action-packed debut novel, six high school kids (some popular, some not), two eighth graders (one a tech genius), and six little kids trapped together in a chain superstore build a refuge for themselves inside. While outside, a series of escalating disasters, beginning with a monster hailstorm and ending with a chemical weapons spill, seems to be tearing the world—as they know it—apart.
Monument 14 seems to have a lot of things going for it: killing hailstorms, a bus explosion, death and abundant destruction... and all that's just within the three chapters of the novel. This sounds like an action-packed read and like a thrill-ride from that promising initiation to main character Dean's survival story somewhere in the vague future. And it is all that, right? Right? Well....kinda, for a while. Monument 14 unfortunately falls prey to the trap of becoming mired in high school
melodrama and love-triangles instead of focusing on the more original and striking aspects of the novel (things like the megatsunamis [not just regular ones, but megatsunamis], the kids abandoned on their own in a poor man's Walmart), which not only bummed me out but brought down the overall enjoyment I took away from the book. This one is going to get a bit spoilery, so DO NOT READ ON if you don't want to read some plot twists in the novel.
The 5- 17 year old cast of characters here are largely defined by their age, and their respective attitudes. None of them is particular defined outside stereotypical roles (The Jock [Jake], The Bully/Jerk [Brayden], The Perfect Girl [Astrid], The Mom [Josie], The Troubled Teen [Sahalia], The Brain [Alex], so on and so forth...) or experiences a whole lot of growth. Dean, the main character and the sole POV for Monument 14, is supposed to be the type of guy that's quiet and awkward, bookish, not quite mature but working for it, and overall, a likeable and relatable guy. But for me, he wasn't. I was iffy on his "voice" from the start as it didn't feel authentically male to me, but gave him the benefit of the doubt enough to keep reading past the first few pages of holy-shit-killer-hailer-oh-hey-there's-already-a-dead-kid. Several things added up to my overall dissatisfaction with Dean as the main character: though I didn't love him, it took time for my antipathy to set in. Now, young Dean has a crush on Astrid, a senior to his junior, and worships the ground she walks on. We get to hear about Dean's fervent love for a girl he doesn't really know often. It gets repeated ad nauseam. C'mon kid: the world as you know it is dead, surely you can ignore Astrid's perfect back for another twenty pages. Or until you've had a real conversation with her, jeez.
Another problem I had with the characters here in Monument 14 are their attitudes. Not necessarily the expected teenage 'tude, but the intelligence and self-awareness that takes years to acquire shown in 5, 8, and 13 year-olds. I had expected the older bunch of high schoolers to act wiser than their years in a survival story and definitely got that in spades (I don't buy that Niko's Scout Training was that comprehensive for all the skills/abiltiies he has. I'm not a Scout, but it's awfully convenient) but the younger kids were abnormally aware when the book needed them to be. I'm talking 5-year old twins correcting adults' traveling plans because "no one travels at night" - what child knows that? And there's Max, the way way wise-beyond-his-years elementary schooler who knows about guns and domestic violence, and also Batiste the 2nd grader obsessed with sin and taking the Lord's name in vain and creative chef. I'm not saying it's impossible for children to be and do these things, but all of them, together, so aware and smart? It strained my credulity for a book about a chemical leak that can attack people differently based on their blood type..
Once the kids are in the store and safe from the killer hail and exploding bus, Monument 14 gets way too invested in teenage
bullshit drama. Yes, this is a young-adult novel so I was expecting some form of romance to worm its way into my nice post-apocalyptic survival novel filled with murder machines. What I wasn't expecting was how much of the book is caught up in lovelife machinations, whining, and just overall drama. Why should I care if Niko harbors a secret love for Josie but Josie is with bad-boy Brayden if none of them have been developed into real characters? Why do I care about Dean getting with Astrid when he spies on her having sex with her boyfriend? (Also: is naming a girl's boobs a "thing" nowadays with young people? I'm only 24 but I find that: laughable, stupid and the opposite of arousing..)
So much of this novel seemed distasteful (like Dean's spying), over-the-top (like Jake's journey from sobriety to druggie to recovered addict) or just plain silly (all the damn love-triangles) that what was awesome about it gets lost early on. Megatsunamis, people, think about the poor neglected megatsunamis. While I was interested in the life in the Greenway Superstore and the kid's self-government there, and recovery is a necessary part of any survival tale, I wanted more on what had forced them into the store and kept them there so long. With the chemicals affecting people with O-type blood with bloodlust and loss of all reason, this should have been a much more suspenseful and creepy tale. Three of the kids in the store have just that type and Hulk out into murder machines if exposed, but beyond one slight threat, the O-ffected (heh, puns) don't really factor into the novel at large. There's a teen offed in the first ten pages but the rest of the novel doesn't live up to that level of death - which as macabre as this sounds, I was disappointed by. In tragedies, people die. In cataclysms and natural disasters like on this scale, even some of the initial survivors would die. While the kids
sadly don't devolve to Lord of the Flies status (there's only one real fight and it's pretty one-sided and deserved), I had hoped for a more cutthroat approach to the 'after' part of this.