Book Review: Monument 14

I don’t remember how Monument 14 (2012), a debut novel by Emmy Laybourne came across my recommended reading pile, but I’m glad it did.

Monument 14 is a post-apocalyptic young adult (YA) novel set in Monument, Colorado in the near future. In the story, we follow 14 youth (between 5 years old and probably 17 or 18) who have been deposited in a local megastore after a devastating hailstorm hit their town. The hailstorm was a result of another natural disaster–I don’t want to give away too much of the set-up–and to make matters worse, a chemical compound was released into the air after a major earthquake that impacts people based on blood type.

The children are on their own: the bus driver who got them all safely into the mega store went for help, never to return. They must figure out how to survive (fortunately the store is well-stocked and riot-gated, so no one can get in that they don’t want in).

This feels like, perhaps, an especially poignant time to have read the book. General anxiety is running high, there’s talk of increased armament, and technology is moving us toward reliance on a cloud-based system that is still, ultimately, fallible. We should be having discussions about what it means to recruit our communities (even though in this book, the recruitment of community was by chance), what it means to support one another, and ultimately what we’re willing to sacrifice for the good of others.

The narrator, Dean, is a socially-awkward junior in high school. He’s a writer, and by extension, an observer of humanity. He does most of this with a kind eye–even though he definitely has his moments of fucking up. The story, as told through his eyes, is more credible simple because of his tendency to write things down and to observe, and I suspect many kids who are creative-types would relate to him. But he’s also judgemental and angers over the frustrations of dealing with younger children, and has jealousy (exhibited over a girl, and over his brother becoming the confidant of the elected leader).

The story does not go the way of Lord of the Flies, as it could, or the way of the Divergent series. Politics do not seem to be a major factor in the story, although there are the hints of it one might expect growing up in a small town. There’s talk of the military base at Colorado Springs, there’s some scorn of “hippies” and of people who practice fundamentalist Christianity. But these things are largely overcome when it’s obvious that to survive the kids need to work together.

I recommend this book for its examination of a post-apocalyptic landscape that doesn’t evidently end in deeply problematic tribalism, for its fluid dialogue, and for its easy-to-relate-to protagonist. Adults who pass this book on to youth should know that language is censored, but that there is an allusion to sexual violence against an 8th grade girl, by an adult visitor the youth allowed into the store (against the better judgement of their leader). This portion of the story line is handled pretty well in that the youth all believe the girl, and the author stays away from the male-savior tropes. The situation does end violently.

This is book 1 in  series.



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