Book Review: Delicate Monsters

Posted May 30, 2015 by Bekka in book review / 3 Comments

Book Review: Delicate MonstersDelicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn
Published by St. Martin's Press on June 9th, 2015
Genres: contemporary
Pages: 240
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher

From the Morris-Award winning author of Charm & Strange, comes a twisted and haunting tale about three teens uncovering dark secrets and even darker truths about themselves.

When nearly killing a classmate gets seventeen-year-old Sadie Su kicked out of her third boarding school in four years, she returns to her family’s California vineyard estate. Here, she’s meant to stay out of trouble. Here, she’s meant to do a lot of things. But it’s hard. She’s bored. And when Sadie’s bored, the only thing she likes is trouble.

Emerson Tate’s a poor boy living in a rich town, with his widowed mother and strange, haunted little brother. All he wants his senior year is to play basketball and make something happen with the girl of his dreams. That’s why Emerson’s not happy Sadie’s back. An old childhood friend, she knows his worst secrets. The things he longs to forget. The things she won’t ever let him.

Haunted is a good word for fifteen-year-old Miles Tate. Miles can see the future, after all. And he knows his vision of tragic violence at his school will come true, because his visions always do. That’s what he tells the new girl in town. The one who listens to him. The one who recognizes the darkness in his past.

But can Miles stop the violence? Or has the future already been written? Maybe tragedy is his destiny. Maybe it’s all of theirs.

First sentence: A ropes course was a shitty place for self-discovery.

The first thing you need to ask yourself before you pick up Delicate Monsters is this: can you deal with animal cruelty? Because there is plenty of it here. Can you deal with sexual depravity from a main character? Again, a lot of that as well. I actually am a bit surprised this one was published as a YA thriller because I’ve never seen anything like it in a young adult novel before.  Delicate Monsters is not an easy book. I read dark, fucked up books all the time, and I think this is the one I had the hardest time pushing through. This is not a book for someone who must like their main characters. This is not a book for someone who can’t stomach the obscene. This book takes the reader to dark places you probably don’t want to go  – it looks ugliness and death and brutality right in the face and laughs at it.

I know I rated this highly, but I hesitate to actually say I liked it. The concept was interesting and as always with Kuehn books, there seems to be a sliver of magical realism that ties the whole book together. Once again, her writing is lovely. It fits perfectly with the mood and it was just goddamn pleasurable to read something written with this much skill. So, those things I enjoyed. I enjoyed putting together the pieces, I enjoyed trying to guess the twists, I enjoyed being surprised when I didn’t. I enjoyed the way it challenged me and made me think about my own life and the perceptions I have of those around me, and the way those around me might perceive me. I enjoyed those things, but I don’t think I can quite say that I enjoyed this book.

When you think of the phrase “bad kid” and all the images and actions that come along with it, that perfectly describes Sadie. She throws glass in the street to see people get flat tires, she deflates a bag of soccer balls for the hell of it, endlessly toys with and fucks with people just because she’s bored. She hurts people on purpose because she gets a thrill from the win. She cares about nothing and no one, hardly even herself. She has no real endgame, no real goals, except to maybe find peace in her discontentment and stop being bored for once in her life. There’s a gaping void inside her from all the things missing in her life – like love and family and compassion. She’s simply sick, a sociopath. But – her character is so cleverly written and I love how her very existence is a challenge to the gender norms we’re typically force-fed when it comes to the things Sadie does. Her life, her being is radical and defiant just by virtue of being Sadie and that’s fucking awesome.

Emerson, on the other hand, is nothing close to awesome. Not in spirit, not in character, not in concept. There is nothing about him that is new or radical or even interesting. He is disgusting. He is a dark cloud hanging over his brother’s head. Emerson (real fucked up shit under the spoiler tag): View Spoiler » He is cruel and ugly and a sexual criminal. There is nothing redeeming about him. At all.

Miles is the glue that holds the entire book together. He’s the only one with any kind of moral compass even if it doesn’t exactly point true north. He’s the victim of his brother’s bullying, of Sadie’s twisted games, and of the typical, if redundant, high school bullies. For me, his story was the most interesting. Miles is sickly – he has food allergies, he has seizures, no one really knows exactly what’s wrong with him. He has severe anxiety. When he was younger Miles was in and out of the hospital so often that his mother was actually arrested and accused of abuse and Munchausen by Proxy. He also has visions of the future that always come true and always end in death. It’s one of these visions that is the catalyst for this story.

Unlike Kuehn’s last novel, Complicit, there are few actual twists. All throughout the book there are threads tying everything together and it’s almost like a loom. You see one small piece that looks like nothing, and when you reach the end of that book – that is, take a few steps backward – you can see how each string is part of a whole. I was surprised by how it all unfolded. I didn’t know where this was going to go as a good amount of this book was all about character. The biggest surprise, I think, was how Sadie’s character changed by the last page. I thought she would be the last one to show growth, but in the end, I think I could have even liked her. The only thing I felt was really lacking was an epilogue.

I don’t really know how to get my feelings across. Because this book is good. It’s simply good. It’s well written; Sadie’s voice in particular is engaging; it’s fast paced and perfectly timed. It’s all these things a thriller should be including surprising and intense and it has that pulling-you-to-the-edge-of-your-seat factor. When you turn the last page you won’t know what the fuck hit you. You’ll probably dislike most of the people in the book; you’ll find it hard to get past a lot of the things they do. But if you stick with it, like I did, you will be rewarded. I promise.

My thoughts are, clearly, all over the place on Delicate Monsters. Going in without reading the synopsis meant I was going in with no defense, no weapons to fight off the tirade of depravity in this book. But even if I had an idea about what this story is, I don’t think I would have fared any better. This book is challenging and engrossing. It’s hard to read – probably the toughest reading experience I’ve ever had to be honest. It’s hard to recommend this, but know that you need a strong stomach but the payoff is mind-blowing.

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