Dean and his brother Alex left for school that morning like it was any other. When hail the size of hubcaps started raining down on their buses, things started to go wrong. They managed to get into a nearby superstore, but now it’s just them–and twelve other kids ranging in age from six to seventeen. They’re mostly safe inside, but outside, a series of disasters (including a chemical weapons spill), keeps them from venturing out to find help–or their parents. Will they survive?
Emmy Laybourne’s novel about a group of kids trapped in a superstore as the world collapses around them is tense, fairly claustrophobic, and ultimately pretty fast-paced. The novel starts especially strong, jumping right into the action, and then almost immediately falters. It isn’t until about halfway through the book that Laybourne really finds her footing with narrator Dean, and the rest of the novel is paced well enough to carry most readers through. While it certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel in apocalyptic fiction, this is a fun ride for readers looking for some adventure.
Despite being well-paced and tense, there are problematic elements to Laybourne’s debut novel. Dean, as a narrator, has a rather flat tone. For a character who is an aspiring writer, he never really sounds like one. There’s some questionable stuff relating to his character: Dean casually throws out a “that’s gay” comment from nowhere, and his preoccupation with slut-shaming a 13-year-old girl borders on the creepy. However, Dean’s voice becomes stronger the further into the story the reader gets, and the development of the other kids trapped in the store helps.
Everything feels a little stiff at the beginning. The characters are numerous and not developed at all. Everyone seems to fall into some sort of stereotype, and it isn’t until the events inside the store start to really speed up that things begin to loosen up. For a remarkably large cast of characters, Laybourne does a pretty nice job of allowing them to all have their own personalities and traits.
A fascinating setting (seriously, who hasn’t thought about what it would be like to be trapped in a big box store with all that stuff at your disposal?) helps counteract the questionable science in the novel. Those looking for hard science fiction might be disappointed: Laybourne’s convenient use of a biological weapon aimed at certain blood types is never fully explored, and the use of a world-wide computer network-cloud thing feels clunkily-inserted into the story. Despite all this, the novel ends up being quite entertaining.
A rushed ending sets up the inevitable sequel, but the actions of the characters feel fairly authentic. This is going to work well for readers who like apocalyptic fiction, and might especially appeal to male readers, which is never a bad thing. Recommended. Monument 14 is out today.
Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne. Feiwel & Friends: 2012. Electronic galley accepted for review via Netgalley.