by Christopher Pike
This book was seriously fucked up in the best way possible. Monster wasted no time getting started and maintained a breakneck speed the entire story. I was initially curious about reading it with the present-day context of gun violence in mind, but that didn’t pan out beyond the first chapter. I liked the journey of Angela’s character from beginning to end, and I appreciated Pike’s unflinching approach to raising the stakes throughout. The plot itself wasn’t particularly twisted, but it kept me guessing as to what was going to happen next. The end result was a quick but intense read that amassed a surprisingly high body count. It definitely left me excited to read some more of Pike’s work.
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It might not seem like much, but it has a big impact!
Observations & Spoilers
Monster opens with Angela’s best friend Mary walking into a high school party and immediately shooting a football player and a cheerleader. After a dramatic showdown, Angela helps stop Mary from killing a third victim with help from the police. That third would-be victim was Mary’s own boyfriend, Jim. When Angela asks Mary why she did it, Mary tells her it’s because they weren’t human anymore. They were Monsters, and whatever made them that way was spreading. This was a lot of ground to cover in the first two chapters, but I appreciated the way Monster throws the reader right into the deep end. Pike brings it in hot, all guns blazing
Angela keeps what Mary told her from Detective Nguyen, and tries to investigate it herself. She doesn’t believe Mary’s story… at first. It’s when she begins getting closer to Jim that’s when things start to spin out of control. When Angela’s date with Jim gets really weird, with him trying to get her to swim with him in the freezing cold Point Lake, and then cutting his arm and bleeding all over her. It’s the way she feels strongly attracted to him in spite of knowing that something is off. That night is when she first has a dream about The World. The World is an alien place. It is of a singular mind, it is hungry and it craves blood. When Angela wakes up, she finds herself craving meat. She finally starts to believe Mary’s story, only it might be too late.
Angela starts to put together that the water in Point Lake has something to do with it. First, she discovers that Point Lake was formed by a meteor. It’s also unique in that the water is always unseasonably cold and holds no aquatic life. Angela also discovers that the Maton people, who are indigenous to the area around Point Lake, have steered clear of it for centuries. Their name for the lake was Sethia, which translates to Bath of Blood. What’s happening to the students at Point High School is directly linked to the school’s decision to use the lake as its source of drinking water. Angela does all of this investigation while fighting her growing need to consume human flesh. Thankfully she was interrupted when she attempted to eat her Grandfather’s dog.
I was reminded of Warren Ellis’ Ocean, which is a positive comparison. Both centered around the concept of the asteroid belt in our solar system having once been a habitable planet occupied by a violent species. The World in Monster used the fifth planet in our solar system, but ancient humans destroyed it. One of those asteroids collided with earth and formed Point Lake. Angela’s dream about The World seemed to imply that ancient humans had the capability of both space travel and of developing a weapon that could destroy a planet. It was a really interesting bit of detail that didn’t get a further explanation. It left me wanting more. I almost feel like it would have been better off keeping things vague.
In the end, Angela devises a plan to gather all of the kids who have been infected into her grandfather’s house (her grandfather was already killed by Jim) and blow it up. She fills the basement with tanks of kerosene and puts a backup set in the bedroom. The plan gets upended when Jim brings her uninfected friend Kevin along. Angela caves to the growing voice in her head, killing and eating Kevin and almost completely becoming one of the Monsters. Thankfully she still had a gift from the Monton Chief, Shining Feather. It’s just a small pendant, but it’s enough to give her the clarity to do what she must do. At this point, I knew everyone was going to die, but I was really vested in making sure that the dog survived. It was the last glimmer of the home that I was holding onto.
Angela chases the dog out of the house and lights the fire. The explosion is massive. The end result killed all 32 infected students; which included the entire Point football team and cheerleading squad. Angela’s body was never recovered. Tallied together with the murders throughout the book, that leaves the body count at 39. The dog survived. In a brief epilogue, we learn that Detective Nguyen adopts the dog. After the tragedy, people are moving out of Point in droves. It also reveals what’s left of Angela; a monster with no memory of what she once was. She knows only hunger, save for the pendant she wears that reminds her to stay away from humans. It was a nice creepy touch to an absolutely brutal ending.
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each. I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are Concept (the overall idea), Execution (the mechanics of storytelling), Character (the protagonists, antagonists, and villains), Scare Factor (from a childhood standpoint), and Originality (subversion and reliance on genre tropes).
The concept reminded me of Warren Ellis’ Ocean, but I believe Monster came out first. Either way, the two stories are very different takes on a similar concept.
This book wasted no time getting started and never once let up throughout. My one reason for docking a point is the history of The World was a bit confusing and muddy at times. It seemed to imply ancient humans had space travel and the ability to destroy a planet, which is a pretty tall leap without any context beyond Angela’s dreams. It didn’t distract from the plot, but it left me wanting more. Either some clarity on this history or fewer details would have made it less confusing.
Angela Warner was a good dynamic character who quite literally changes throughout the book. Her perspective as the “monster” tried to take over kept things interesting. Angela’s friend Kevin had a particularly tragic arc in the story as well. I also liked really liked Detective Nguyen.
Scare Factor: 2/2
This one would have terrified me as a kid; I’m glad I didn’t read this one in fourth grade. The ending is straight-up brutal, with a body count of at least 39 people. The main character was completely turned into a monster with only a tiny shred of her humanity still intact. It was all very unsettling.
I’m sure there are tons of sci-fi and horror stories out there with similar concepts. But I think Pike’s approach here in weaving them all together was unique and horrifying.
Don’t miss the next post in the Pulp Horror blog series:
Diane Hoh’s The Accident