Saturday, 25 May 2013

Monument 14, by Emmy Laybourne

Monument 14 is an absolutely brilliant new offering for any readers who love to be kept on the edge of their seat.

Monument 14 has everything a good apocalypse novel needs: tension, human frailty and human interaction, a disaster or five, and plenty of cliff-hangers. There is blood and bodies, people to trust, people to fear, and people with questionable motives. There are boys with crushes on girls and girls with crushes on boys, and there is the question: who will live and who will die?

When a freak hailstorm hits the town of Monument one morning during Dean’s bus ride to school, he and the other kids on board are forced to take refuge in the local supermarket. It’s a chaotic and dramatic few moments, featuring a nasty crash, screaming, trauma, smoke and a heroic rescue. But this is only the beginning.

The following story covers a period of just twelve days, in which the group’s allegiances, survival skills and mental wellbeing are put to the test and pushed right to the edge. Because pretty soon it becomes clear that the hailstorm was not a one-off event, but one in a long line of disasters to hit the US on this September morning. Desperate as the children are to get home to their parents, when the riot doors of the supermarket come down, they find themselves trapped inside, a blessing in disguise as the world outside falls apart. Here, they have all they could possibly need: food, medicine, sleeping bags, you name it. But other people need it and want it too. Can they be trusted?

There are obvious similarities between Monument 14 and other apocalyptic stories of children cut off or separated from adults - Gone by Michael Grant, The Enemy by Charlie Higson, Ashes by Ilsa J Bick. Personally, I think this is the best of them all. It tackles similar issues, namely what happens to a group of children when left without parental supervision, how the big children must take responsibility for the littlies, power struggles, who to trust and who to fear, but two things really stand out in Monument 14. Firstly, the quality of the writing (I confess, I thought Gone was terribly written, and I think I’m one of perhaps only half a dozen people in the world who actually dislikes the enormously popular series) – but Emmy Laybourne’s storytelling is smooth and realistic, with no drag to the framing of situations or with her word choices, and she really kept me on the edge of my seat literally throughout the whole book.

Secondly, the series of events that take place to create the disaster the Monument 14 children witness are incredibly realistic. There are no mysterious domes, zombie-producing viruses, or weird unexplained supernatural explosions in this book, only natural disasters. One disaster triggers another, which triggers another, which causes a nasty, experimental chemical spill. The chemical is the only thing that could be argued against in my reasoning, but actually pretty similar things are created and played with by scientists today. And so this is what is really scary about Monument 14: IT COULD HAPPEN. It’s enough to give a person nightmares (ok, another confession: it did).

Scary, totally gripping, and really well executed. If only part two wasn’t a whole six months away.

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