By Diane Hoh.
There’s a big, furry monster terrorising Salem Uni, attacking students with its razor-sharp claws. And when it’s suggested the beast may have a human alter-ego, there’s no shortage of suspects amongst Abby’s circle of friends. Her jealous boyfriend, David, is high up on that list, until his handsome face gets slashed by the monster during a secret rendezvous with flirtatious drama major – and mistress of disguise – Sissy. Creature-feature obsessives, Jerry and Lenny, are absolved when they also fall victim to the beast’s rampages. Could it be sinister science nerd Stan, who is always in the chem lab creeping Abby out when she’s trying to finish her doomed extra credit project? Or her roommate, Carrie, who disappears all night and turns up with mysterious bruises? Or perhaps it’s hot upperclassman Martin, who has taken a sudden, ardent interest in Abby?
She has no clue, but a monster on campus is just one more thing for Abby to worry about alongside her complicated love life, exhausting study/work/socialise schedule, and desperate need to get her chemistry project finished so she gets that all-important A.
Monster is the daftest entry in the Nightmare Hall series; a silly take on the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde formula, where the race is on to work out the identity of the human side of the beast before they go as far as killing someone. It should work well as a whodunit, but the cast of suspects is quickly eroded when half of them cross over into victim status far too early in the narrative. Brushing aside these early-bath-takers – and the obvious red herrings – we’re left with two potential shape-shifters. That it turns out to be the slightly less obvious one isn’t necessarily a mark in Monster’s favour. It leads to a messy dismount in the finale and, when we’re left hanging on the last page, it feels dissatisfying rather than suspenseful.
A bold break from the usual PH formula, but one which quickly bubbles over into ridiculousness and predictability.
I appreciate YA fiction is mostly enjoyed by pre-teens, but surely the vast majority of PH readers have long since grown out of a fear of monsters under the bed? It’s difficult to imagine anyone over seven finding this entry scary. And yet, it deals with some of the most adult topics covered by the franchise, including the desire to experiment sexually at college, and domestic abuse. At one point, it seems the whole ‘monster’ plot might be an allegory for violence in relationships, and it’s disappointing when it subsequently becomes clear that’s not the case. The horror of the Jekyll and Hyde story lies in a gradual loss of control as the monster takes over from the man, but that element is omitted from this re-telling. The violence of Monster is incongruous with the lack of horror, and it mars the whole narrative, making it an unpleasant, rather than a scary, read.