Your mother hollers that you’re going to miss the bus. She can see it coming down the street. You don’t stop and hug her and tell her you love her. You don’t thank her for being a good, kind, patient mother. Of course not—you launch yourself down the stairs and make a run for the corner.
Only, if it’s the last time you’ll ever see your mother, you sort of start to wish you’d stopped and did those things. Maybe even missed the bus.
But the bus was barreling down our street, so I ran.
Fourteen kids. One superstore. A million things that go wrong.
In Emmy Laybourne’s action-packed debut novel, six high school kids (some popular, some not), two eighth graders (one a tech genius), and six little kids trapped together in a chain superstore build a refuge for themselves inside. While outside, a series of escalating disasters, beginning with a monster hailstorm and ending with a chemical weapons spill, seems to be tearing the world—as they know it—apart.
Monument 14 is another of those post-apocalyptic, end-of-the-world books that seem to be coming out in droves of late. I am the first to admit that the genre typically isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I’ve read a few of them in the past few months that I’ve actually really enjoyed (much to my surprise), and I can safely add this one to that list. The book isn’t perfect by any means, but there was something very gripping and engaging about the narrative, and I found myself really enjoying Dean’s voice, particularly the sense of humor that pervaded the book. It helped add levity to what was a terrible situation, and was probably the main reason I was unable to put this book down.
The book starts off with a bang, and for the next couple of chapters, doesn’t quit. The kids are on their bus, heading to school, when a massive hail storm hits, leaving so much destruction and death in its wake. I mean, we literally have a character die within the first few pages. Thanks to a bus driver who takes her job very seriously, the kids – one bus of high schoolers, one bus of middle/elementary kids – make it to Greenway, a sort of superstore a la Walmart, where they then spend the rest of the book trying to keep themselves safe from the chaos outside. The hail storm isn’t the end of the destruction – there’s then a massive earthquake, and a chemical spill that attacks people based on their blood type, and causes Dean to turn into a raving lunatic who wants to kill everyone. Couple that with several children under the age of eight who just all want to go home, and I was instantly gripped by the scenario and wanting to see how everything would work itself out.
Because the kids are cut off from the rest of the world – there is one lone TV which can connect to CNN and keep them semi-appraised on what’s going on – the rest of the book focuses on their daily activities inside the store, from cleaning up in the aftermath, to cooking daily meals (Dean winds up with kitchen duty, much to his chagrin), and, yes, to the typical YA romance tropes, including an assortment of hookups and love triangles. But none of that bothered me, because I could sort of see why the author did it; these kids have no idea what’s going on outside, they are trapped inside the store (the riot gates were engaged), and they are all trying to take care of each other and themselves in the best way they can. All of them – ALL of them – make mistakes, and bad decisions, and there’s the usual grapple for power (which was broken up wonderfully by Josie, who I couldn’t help but enjoy), but the author just had a way with words that made all of it feel fresh and kept my interest, even though nothing really massive was really happening.
What I really loved, however, were the elementary kids. This probably has something to do with the fact that I work with them on a daily basis, and that I could see actual real versions of the children in my head as I read about them. You had Max, who has absolutely no filter and just tells it like it is, including his uncle’s outrageous trips to strip clubs, and his parents accidentally forgetting about him at a restaurant (I once had a Kindergartner tell me all about his dad’s crime that led to his incarceration). Then there’s Batiste, who has been raised in a super religious family and admonishes everyone whenever they curse, or do anything to hurt someone (“Cleanliness is next to Godliness, Dean!”), and Chloe, who is clearly a spoiled brat and used to getting her way. So many good quotes came courtesy of these kids, and when you combine that with Dean’s humor, there were some truly laugh-out-loud moments. And I know: this is a book about the end of the world, it probably shouldn’t be funny. But, again, these kids have absolutely no clue about what’s going on outside, at least for a vast majority of the book, and they’ve basically set up their own little home, so even though the circumstances are dire and dangerous and hopeless, the kids themselves don’t know that. Honestly, this wasn’t necessarily a book about survival so much as keeping each other safe and out of harm’s way and trying to make things as normal as possible, which these daily activities and the happenings of the characters did quite well.
Things gear up again at the end, and I was a bit surprised at the choices Niko made. There is apparently going to be at least a sequel, so I look forward to seeing how everything is going to be resolved. Be aware that, because of this, there is no solid ending, no definitive resolution to the plot or the problems facing these kids, so don’t go into this expecting that things will be tied up nice and neat, because they aren’t. In some ways, I feel like the ending works as an open-ended one, though, so it will be interesting to see what comes next.
If you’re looking for something grittier and darker, with the characters having to struggle to survive, then you’re better off reading something else. After all, these kids are living in a superstore full of anything and everything they could possibly need, so there is no desperation in terms of having to find shelter or food or anything else. But if you instead want a book that focuses on the day-to-day activities that come with picking up the pieces and trying to keep things as normal as possible, give this one a read. I, for one, found it quite enjoyable.
“He was always watching everyone, waiting for them to screw up, so he could point it out. A real charming quality, I tell you. I guess being a little self-important know-it-all was not considered a sin by his people.”
“Chloe groaned, ‘Awww,’ as if assessing resources was a chore her parents made her do every Sunday morning.”
“I always have time to delouse a friend.”
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.