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Book Review: Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

Fourteen kids. One superstore. The end of the world.
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. (from Goodreads)




When the beginning of the end happens, Dean is riding on a bus to school.  A massive hail storm occurs and, thanks to a daring rescue by a nearby bus driver, Dean is snapped out of the jaws of death and thrust into a Greenway superstore – think Walmart – and is now part of the Monument 14.  These are 14 kids in Monument, Colorado who are probably the luckiest kids in the world.

You see, while all hell breaks loose outside, these 14 kids are trapped inside; riot gates have descended locking them inside.

The hail storm is followed by a mega tsunami that causes chemical warfare agents from the nearby NORAD complex to escape.  The gases affect people differently according to blood type, causing some to go into murderous, violent rages.  So while the people scramble for food and water and kill each other outside, this group of 14 is playing The Breakfast Club crossed with The Babysitters Club inside.  Stir in a little post apocalyptic power politics, add a dash of stupid decisions, and you get this next installment in this year’s trendy episode of teens trapped in places.

Although it is true that there is a plethora of titles this year with “teens trapped in places” (say that with an announcer voice echoing in your head), Monument 14 certainly has some elements that make it stand apart from the crowd and give it a unique flavor.

Kids 

In this group of 14, there are younger kids as well as teens.  Some of them are even as young as kindergarten.  This forces the group to find ways to interact with and have to protect these kiddos, adding dimension to some of the characters and throwing some interesting curve balls.  In one scene a mad man stands yelling at the gates and the teens are forced to find creative ways to distract the kids.  It was nice to see the teens rising to the occasion time and time again to take care of the most vulnerable in their midst.

The Superstore

Make no mistake, if the apocalypse ever happens you should get yourself locked in a superstore immediately – preferably with sane, non power hungry people full of crazy muderous rage.  Because our group is locked inside a superstore with every need they could every really have easily provided for, the author is forced to find new ways to amp up the action in the story.  A lot of post apocalyptic fiction focuses on survivors having to try and find food and water, but that is not a really issue here.  This is both a blessing and a curse for Laybourne who gets to focus on other elements of storytelling.  There is a definitely a part in the middle where the teens get a little too comfortable and fall into a Breakfast Club like dynamic; there is a lot of talking and angsting and it slows down what was a thrilling, break neck pace.  It also, however, allows for Laybourne to put the teens in some unique situations and find creative ways to use the items surrounding them to solve their problems.

Multiculturalism?

One of the younger kids trapped in the store is of Hispanic heritage and doesn’t speak English very well.  Many of the character are, in fact, blatant stereotypes – such as Jake, the power hungry Jock (although it is interesting to see his character implode when his leadership role is superseded) – and in some ways the barely English speaking kindergartner is as well, but it also adds a layer of challenge for our characters and a more realistic reflection of group dynamics.

The Strangers at the Door

These teens have clearly not read enough post apocalyptic fiction in their lives and they don’t know that when someone comes knocking on your door you NEVER EVER open it.  They are always murderous, power hungry, raping, flea bags.  Remember that when the apocalypse comes.

The Chemicals

The most interesting component of Monument 14 are these mysterious chemicals that get released into the air.  They affect people differently based on blood types and we get a glimpse into how they affect some of our 14 when they go onto the roof to fix a vent and seal off the superstore.  The chemicals become a factor later when the group has a chance to leave the superstore and go search for their families.

Family Dynamics

Although Dean is the sole point of view telling our tale, he is trapped in the superstore with his younger – and much smarter – brother Alex.  It is interesting to see the roles of the brothers slowly shed their skin and take on new forms.  It is also interesting to read about and compare these brothers trapped in a dire situation to that presented in Quarantine by Lex Thomas; here, two brothers are also trapped in a dire situation – this time a school.  Make no mistake, Quarantine is a much more hostile environment and Dean and Alex should count themselves lucky to have dropped into this post apocalyptic scenario as opposed to that presented in Quarantine.  Which brings me to another important THING I HAVE LEARNED FROM READING POST APOCALYPTIC FICTION: small groups are always better than big groups.  Don’t worry, I think a future Tuesday’s Top 10 is going to be a post on THINGS I HAVE LEARNED FROM READING POST APOCALYPTIC FICTION.

All in all, this is a good read with all the elements your teens are looking for in their PA fiction: thrills and chills, action, suspense, and just a little bit of romance.  Although there are a couple of sexual situations and dead bodies laying around, Monument 14 is tamer than some of the other PA fiction out there.  I think Monument 14 is a likable read, but it suffers from the misfortune of being published at a time when there are at least half a dozen other titles out there flooding the market with a variation of the same type of PA scenario.  There is nothing that will make a reader cast this aside and harrumpf, but some of the other titles I have read with this premise really stood out either in character development (Ashes by Ilsa J Bick), atmosphere (This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers) or by simply being a more pulse pounding read (Quarantine by Lex Thomas).  3 out of 5 stars for the sluggish middle and the character stereotypes; but 5 out of 5 stars for the exciting first few chapters and the nice chemical compounds twist.  In the end I guess it ends up a 4.

Have you read Monument 14?  Tell us what you think.  And is it wrong to compare a title to other similar titles? That’s what we all do as readers – right?

Now please feel free to spend the remainder of your day singing “It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine” . . .