Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

February 21, 2014 Reviews 1 ★★★★

Monument 14 by Emmy LaybourneMonument 14 (Monument 14 #1) by Emmy Laybourne
Published: April 4th 2013 by HachetteAU
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Genres: Post Apocalyptic
Source: Library
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4 Stars

Fourteen kids. One superstore. A million things that go wrong ...

Fourteen kids stranded inside a superstore. Inside they have everything they could ever need. There's junk food and clothes, computer games and books, drugs and alcohol ... and without adult supervision they can do whatever they want.

Sounds like fun?

But outside the world is being ripped apart by violent storms and chemicals leaking into the atmosphere that, depending on blood type, leave victims paranoid, violent or dead.

The kids must remain inside, forced to create their own community, unsure if they'll ever be able to leave. Can they stop the world they've created inside from self-destructing too?

This book has blown me away! I really liked it, and am looking forward to more.

The world is ending! Well, no, but something very weird does happen to Dean on his way to school one morning: mega hail takes out his school bus and suddenly he and a bunch of other kids are taking shelter inside a Greenway (a huge, huge store). Even though most of the kids on the bus are dead, it’s going to be OK because a bus driver is going to find help. Stay calm, eat some pizza (this grocery store has a pizza place inside it), and wait for your parents. Sounds like an easy task, right?

That’s before the earthquake hits (8.2 on the Richter Scale), which not only destroys most of the small town, it damages a nearly chemical weapons facility which leaks the toxins into the air. The toxins have different effects on different people: it sends some into violent rages, makes some people paranoid, causes others to break out in horrible blisters, and doesn’t seem to affect others at all. Luckily, the Greenway has emergency barriers, which trap the kids inside, and more importantly, keep everyone else out.

Surreal and frightening events follow. One of the kids takes charge, and there’s a lot of sleeping, cooking, looking for first aid items etc. It’s almost like one of those psychology experiments you hear about – you know, the ones with the prisoners and prison-guards? Except here you have high schoolers, who take charge but have hot, raging teenaged hormones inside them, and elementary schoolers, who basically want their parents, cry at the drop of a hat, and still need naps, and two kids stuck between those two worlds. I found the social dynamic interesting, and this is a strength of the novel.

Monument 14 is told in a very different style from the usual – it’s like we’re reading Dean’s notes after everything has happened. He confesses his personal thoughts and weaknesses to us fairly readily, but the overall tone is quite laid-back and informal. It feels like Dean is speaking to us, with the narrative even going so far as to remind us what had happened yesterday or this morning and stuff. I liked it, because it is so different, but I can see that this style of storytelling isn’t for everyone. In particular, Dean’s not exactly reliable, and he tends to change his notes to portray himself in a better light. Even when he’s confessing to something horrible, he does it with the expectation that the reader will understand that he’s a Good Guy.

As with all apocalyptic novels I’ve read, the focus is on how no one, not even our protagonist, is good to the core. Dean is awkward and a little weird, and harbours a crush on the Pretty Girl of the party (Astrid). He is basically nice, but he gets jealous, is frustrated by the little kids easily, and can’t seem to get pretty girls out of his head. The large cast means that the author couldn’t flesh out all the characters, and instead the narrative focusses on a select few: Sahalia, a thirteen-year-old girl who wants to play at being grown up, Jake, a footballer with a weakness for getting high, Dean’s younger brother Alex, and Dean himself. The other characters are also interesting, but I didn’t feel like I got to know them very well. Many of them didn’t undergo any character development, and the younger kids, in particular, seemed a little too world-weary for their ages.

The treatment of Sahalia was troubling to me. On one hand, I absolutely understand being thirteen, being in that no-man’s land between kid and adult, and wanting desperately to prove you’re an adult. And I get that sometimes people use their sexuality to achieve that. Dean’s narration gives Sahalia the benefit of the doubt (in hindsight though) but the rest of the characters are pretty quick to label her a slut. Also troubling was how Dean never failed to notice her sexual allure, even though she was so young. The thing with Robbie was basically a given, and I was sickened as soon as Robbie was introduced because there were big red arrows everywhere pointing where the situation was going.

The most disappointing aspect of the book is the world-building, in that there is very little told to readers about what is actually happening outside of the store. We’re still unsure about what caused all the changes in weather and the full effects of the toxin released into the air (although it having different effects on people depending on blood-type is cool). All the action is set inside the store, and although it is quite detailed, overall, I don’t feel like I got to know enough about the outside world to satisfy me.

The plot of the novel is a little odd. After the action-filed beginning where the world seemed to be ending, the book focusses mainly on social politics. Which is interesting, but there is little scope for excitement or danger, which is what I was expecting. Very soon, the kids are inside this little box where the outside world isn’t affecting them, and they’re doing well enough to become embroiled in a series of love-triangles and power-struggles. I didn’t like all of it, but understood why most of the situations played out the way they did: with many of the external factors that governed their behaviour gone, many of the characters changed when they were trapped together. The ending took me by surprise, because it raised the stakes and brought home the danger these kids were in, after they had basically made a safe haven for themselves and were equipped to survive almost two years.

I liked Monument 14 a lot, and will be pursuing the sequel with eagerness. I think Laybourne has done an excellent job at imagining how a bunch of kids, all from different backgrounds, would do in this situation. There’s something in the book for everyone: some action, some violence, some romance, and great friendships.

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