The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 3, 2011

Lisa Brown, book review: Good fiction hiding in teen section

By Lisa Brown
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Books for young adults have changed a lot since I was a teenager. It seemed all we had then were S. E. Hinton novels and the “Sweet Valley High” series.

The publishing world’s regard for teens has improved considerably, and some of the best, most interesting works are now aimed specifically at that demographic. With that thought in mind, I’ve been visiting the shelves of the Joplin Public Library’s Teen Department a bit more lately.

Elizabeth Eulberg’s “Prom and Prejudice,” a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s classic “Pride and Prejudice,” caught my attention -- though, as a Janeite, I must admit that I approached this homage with my guard already up.

The opening line did have me rolling my eyes: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single girl of high standing at Longbourn Academy must be in want of a prom date.” Now, I’m well past the age of caring about prom; I didn’t even care about prom when I was a teenager. But the story soon pulled me in.

Lizzie Bennett is a scholarship student at Longbourn Academy, a private girls school. She’s getting a great education but is miserable because -- aside from her music teacher, her roommate Jane, Jane’s crush Charles Bingley, and a local boy named George Wickham -- everyone treats her horribly.

She meets Will Darcy, Bingley’s friend who attends the neighboring boys school, and finds him quite the snob. Of course, if you’ve read “Pride and Prejudice” or seen the film adaptations, you know how “Prom and Prejudice” ends.

This is a fast, fluffy read -- perhaps too fast and fluffy. Lizzie is bullied on a daily basis, but this abuse is glossed over with the explanation that rich students always pick on scholarship students. Considering the serious ramifications bullying can have, I found this lack of attention troubling.

In addition, the characters needed more development; many of them were just caricatures, mere reflections of the originals. Overall, however, I enjoyed the author’s nod to Austen’s original novel: Class conflicts are still at the heart of the story, the kids attend schools named Pemberley and Longbourn, and Lizzie Bennett sees Will Darcy in a new light after she unwittingly visits his family’s beautiful home.

I’m curious to see if Elizabeth Eulberg will revisit the remainder of Austen’s novels, too. I kind of hope she does.

My other foray into teen fiction was much darker: I snagged the first entry in Rick Yancey’s new horror series, “The Monstrumologist,” on audiobook to keep me company on a lengthy drive.

From the first line -- “These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed” -- I became so engrossed in the tale that I resented every time I had to leave the car.

It is 1888, and 12-year-old orphan Will Henry James is apprenticed to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, a monstrumologist, or someone who studies monsters. Their quarry in this book: the Anthropophagus, a terrifying creature with razor-sharp teeth and nails, no head and an appetite for human flesh.

When Anthropophagi begin slaughtering area residents, Warthrop and Will Henry must determine how the monsters came to be in New England and then destroy them.

“The Monstrumologist” is wonderfully gothic. Much of the action happens at night, in locations such as a lunatic asylum, graveyards, and a foundering ship. The Anthropophagi themselves have ties to Warthrop’s murky past. And, lest you forget this is a horror novel, there is gore. Lots of gore.

The main characters are well-drawn. They’re original, multi-faceted, and unpredictable. As the doctor’s assistant in necropsies and monster-hunting, Will Henry displays bravery that many a grown-up would admire. Yet he’s still a boy who refuses to stop wearing the now too-small hat his deceased father gave him. He is frustrated by the doctor’s shortcomings but loyal to him, and always heeds his call of “Snap to, Will Henry, snap to!”

Dr. Warthrop fascinates. A brilliant man, he’s temperamental, demanding, and prone to fits of mania and melancholy. Yet he cares for Will Henry in his own way. His brusque nature makes it all the more touching when he displays a small kindness or considers the boy’s safety above all else.

Even the supporting characters are memorable, particularly a monster hunter whom Warthrop enlists. This vile man’s sociopathic tendencies are well-hidden beneath a charming smile and wit, but his depravity becomes evident.

Yancey’s language is descriptive and old-fashioned. Still, his writing is accessible. There is lots of dry humor, and action that will have you holding your breath in anticipation.

“The Monstrumologist” captured my attention like nothing has in a while. I’ve already started the second book in the series, “The Curse of the Wendigo,” and very much look forward to the September publication of the third, “The Isle of Blood.”

If you like complex characters and good story-telling -- and if you have a strong stomach -- Rick Yancey’s “The Monstrumologist” might be for you.

Lisa E. Brown is the Administrative Assistant at the Joplin Public Library.