Not Exactly Young Adult - Tween Book "The Last Monster"
The Last Monster, Ginger Garrett (Delacorte Books for Young Readers)
The Last Monster tells the story of a strong girl who has beaten cancer but not her own personal demons. Sofia is a character who speaks the words of so many young people who feel the pain of not fitting in, of being ignored or pressured to belong. Although I found the cartoonish illustrations jarringly at odds with the realistic book descriptions, this was a good read. The Last Monster speaks to the possibility of finding strength and hope in finding your true self and true friends. It’s not a new message, but Sofia’s unique journey gives it depth.
This book opens with cancer survivor Sofia and her mother stopping by an Atlanta hospital for Sofia to be fit with a new prosthetic leg. As they wait, we learn that Sofia’s time spent in the depths of a fight against cancer, referred to deftly by Ms. Garrett throughout the narration, may have cost her a leg, but she has made gains as well. The weather strikes an ominous note – thunder and lightning at the tail end of winter -- shaking the security of the cancer ward and signaling Sofia’s first supernatural experience. It’s also a signal for the abilities of Ginger Garrett to set a dark scene and help us come to know a girl named Sofia, who is struggling ultimately to reclaim herself
From trying to recover her place among her peers after cancer, to convincing herself that she is not going crazy, to discovering the land of boys, Sofia is really having a hard time re-entering the world middle school. Everything is different, especially the monsters that only she seems able to see! What is going on here? This is a fast-paced book with a strong heroine, and I enjoyed the sense of atmosphere. Ms. Garrett sets a great scene, with powerful language and drama. She also writes with a wry humor and a cleverness that seemed entirely appropriate to the character. At one point, Sofia regrets not writing a goodbye note to her mother before heading into the scrum of students changing classes at school, noting that it probably didn’t matter anyway since she would more likely end up wandering deliriously for days due to the toxic scent of heavily applied body spray anyway. It was funny and it really brought to mind the wild hallway scenes of a typical middle school.
My only real criticism of the book is that someone who can toss off a great dark phrase like, “the wet thud” of a body hitting the floor and describe a great scaly slavering monster deserves monsters that actually look scary, instead of like googly-eyed lumps of jelly with marshmallow teeth protruding from their foolishly grinning mouths. Presumably Ms. Garrett approved the art, but if what I saw in my ARC copy is the final thing … Yuck! For me it really detracted from the palpable sense of fear and excitement created by the writing itself.
Sometimes I also felt that the emphasis on the theme of individualism was being hit a little strong, but I could forgive Ms. Garrett for that because I found the heroine engaging, and it was a unique variation on the theme. So maybe I cut her some slack because I found the telling of the tale outweighed that weakness. Hopefully that is not like cutting Sofia slack because she had cancer; Sofia would hate that. And the girl who can take on The Last Monster is not someone to trifle with!