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Sometimes murder is child’s play….

I read this in one sitting last night and my skin is still crawling – my mind feels slightly disconnected, altered somehow. Don’t let the Blyton-esque cover fool you. This is a dark, deeply disturbing portrait of childhood gone wrong, in the vein of The Wasp Factory and We Need to Talk About Kevin – not for the easily perturbed.monsters

The nameless narrator is a twelve-year-old girl whose parents “got smushed to death in a boating accident when I was nine. Don’t worry – I’m not that sad about it.” Sent to live with her true-crime-obsessed Grandma, the girl develops an unhealthy interest in serial killers. Spending the summer with her aunt and uncle who run a crappy hotel in Fowey, Cornwall,  that interest will spiral out of control.

Two exciting things happen that summer. Firstly, the body of a naked woman is hauled out of the sea. Secondly, a thirteen-year-old boy called Miles comes to stay in the hotel. Completely dominated by his vile mother, Miles is unlike other boys, and the girl becomes Miles’s first friend. They quickly discover they share a passion for the macabre, and deciding to investigate the murder (as the police, they agree, are hopeless), the pair show the reader the underside of Fowey – not so much picturesque fishing village, as Royston Vasey by the sea. They also enjoy passing time playing the “murder game”, in which Miles attempts to strangle or drown the girl – a game which hints at the darker turn the story will inevitably take. As their friendship develops, and it becomes clear that a real serial killer is on the prowl, the pressure builds and builds until the children’s repressed emotions break free.

The narration is superb – the girl’s voice is as clear as crystal and utterly compelling. And through her narration we see the truth of things – yes, the children are monstrous, but so are the adults that surround them, who turn blind eyes to the children’s trauma and saturate them with shame. It is little wonder that things turn out the way they do. This is a portrait of how children turn bad, and how society likes to pretend that it happens in isolation – the children must have been “born evil”. The truth is far more disturbing.

Monsters is not for the faint-hearted – it’s ending is very shocking and the themes that it explores are uncomfortable in the extreme. But it’s brave and original, and lingers long in the mind. I really couldn’t put it down – it’s exceptional.

Aimed at a young adult audience, I would recommend this for 14+ to adult; and I think it’s definitely a novel adults should read, as it raises a dark mirror to the way we raise (or fail to raise) our children.

Hot Key Books, 2015, ISBN 9781471404627