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Published: September 2020
One of the main reasons why I enjoy writing book recommendations is because, once upon a time, probably 90% of the books I read were recommended to me. Even now, over 50% of the books we read in our house still come through recommendations (with the rest sourced from authors we have already come to love through...yes, you've guessed it, recommendations).
The Monsters of Rookhaven was no exception. Even after spending tons of time on social media and online bookshops, this author was shamefully not on my radar until I received a recommendation a couple of weeks ago. I bought it second hand and dived right in and...wow, this is a truly stunning narrative and one of the most haunting, compelling and unique reads I have come across in a long time.
Mirabelle knows she is a monster - part of the 'family' that resides at the hidden and protected Rookhaven estate. But when the glamour that offers that protection is torn, two unexpected visitors arrive and Mirabelle discovers that friendship can come from the outside world. But not all in the outside is good. Evil is lurking and the family are in terrible danger- from a monster that is hiding in plain sight. Will Mirabelle lose everything she holds dear and even her own life?
This is a challenging, upper middle grade read and not for the faint-hearted. It has a dark, ethereal feel and is shrouded in shadow and mystery and intrigue from the get go. The set-up is unique, the writing is stunning and the characters are some of the best I've ever met. Mirabelle is strong, compassionate and unyielding, Uncle Bertram is funny and endearing and Piglet simply left me speechless. I had huge compassion for Freddie and Jem and Tom and I loved the emotional rawness that accompanied each and everyone of them.
The themes run deep in this novel but it is my no means all doom and gloom. Padraig Kenny injects some brilliant humour through the character of Uncle Bertram and through Mirabelle's dealings with Daisy and Dotty, making this story, in many ways, a parallel of the Adaams Family. Family is a key theme all through the novel as is the impact of grief and loss and cruelty. Mirabelle doesn't know who she is but, as she begins to find out, she becomes more aware of these harsh aspects of life -something Jem and Tom and Freddie are already dealing with.
I loved that the novel was set during the war without being specifically about the war. Through his depictions of the village people, Kenny managed to convey the crippling sadness and devastation that crushed communities after the extensive loss of loved ones. Piglet's extraordinary passages insightfully presented the truth to the reader like a dagger to the heart - leaving a unbelievably poignant impact.
I could talk about this book all day. The Malice is both terrifying and brilliantly written but Piglet for me, remains the star of this book, and maybe of all literary characters. I didn't find the plot particularly fast-paced but yet it is completely compelling. I think the joy of this book is literally spending time with the characters and, in the words of the publisher, this book "explores difference and empathy through the eyes of characters you won't want to let go."
Kenny explores the concept of monsters in such an interesting and relevant way in this book. In our society, people we label as 'monsters' or people we are scared of because they are 'different' are often anything but monsters. Yet real monsters walk amongst us in plain sight, undetected but wrecking havoc through lies, manipulation or evil deeds. This is the crux of The Monsters of Rookhaven; to develop empathy for the so-called monsters, whilst learning to identify the real ones. It is a text essential for the curriculum and I can't quite stop thinking about it.
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