Joan believes herself to be a typical teenager. She spends her summers in London visiting her maternal grandmother, while her father visits his family in Malaysia. During this visit she has been volunteering at Holland House, a historic home and museum in Kensington. Holland House is where she met Nick, the quiet and shy volunteer whom she really likes. It’s going to be a marvelous summer.
And then, over the course of a single day, Joan’s world is turned upside down. An unexpected occurrence mysteriously robs Joan of an entire afternoon and her grandmother is forced to tell Joan the family secret: Joan is not a normal teenage girl. She is a monster from a family of monsters. They possess powers that Joan finds difficult to grasp. And, Nick, the boy she likes? He is a legendary monster hunter who, when he finds out Joan is a monster, let’s her go, but promises that the next time he sees her, he will kill her. Like he just killed her entire family.
To save herself and, hopefully, her family, Joan will have to embrace what it means to be a monster and, in so doing, redefine who can be a hero.
In Only a Monster, debut author Vanessa Len tells an exciting and insightful story of romance, self-discovery, and adventure. She creates a fascinating culture inhabited by people who call themselves monsters (aptly for the source of power on which their ability and entire society rely).This culture is a fascinating mix of the familiar combined with Len’s vision, resulting in a sub-culture as interesting and faceted as other more familiar magical cultures, and held in check by strict restrictions and dire consequences for deviations.
It is this ability, which Joan stumbles into and realizes she now possesses, that provides part of the conflict of the book. Joan is part of a group in which she does not want to be numbered, but also cannot leave. She is also forced to use her abilities, which causes her distress. As a newcomer to the culture, as opposed to those around her who have grown up within the culture, Joan is continually questioning and challenging the “status quo” of the monsters and she is intent on doing something she is repeatedly told cannot be done: save her family.
Len’s cast of characters is wonderfully diverse. And Only a Monster, while being promoted as the first in a planned trilogy, stands nicely on its own. Len seems to walk the very fine line, providing a book that will be satisfying for readers who do not choose to read the follow up novels, while leaving enough questions unresolved to provide incentive for those who want to follow Joan on her subsequent adventures.
Be sure to read the interview with Vanessa Len.