Wednesday, October 17, 2012


I did a thing the other day that I try very hard not to do--I revisited a score I gave a few months ago and dropped a four star book to a three star.  This was based partly on reevaluation--I really don't remember liking the book for four stars.  But it was also because, in a head to head of YA novels about a bunch of teenagers trapped in a mall, No Safety In Numbers fell a distant second to Monument 14.

One big ticket item in any book where the kids have to sort things out is where the heck the adults are and what they're doing.  Safety had adults in it, and while many of them were wandering around passively, some of them were taking action.  Just because we're following the kids doesn't mean the adults disappear.  But there's definitely a sheep-like element to the behavior of most (though not all) of the adults that the kids are all too vital and probing to fall prey to.  They're not sheep!  They're individuals!

Monument, however, had the kids trapped without adults.  The adults are on the outside, doing their best to survive the earthquakes and chemical weapons.  When we do meet adults, they're commanding and firm, and there are complexities to their presence--they're just as much characters as the kids are.

And really, it's about the characters.  Both books have some parallel characters--the popular jock who's not as much of a jerk as tradition holds, and the popular jock who is.  The self-sufficient loner who knows how to make his way in the world.  Hot popular girl.  But Safety's characters are somehow still thumbnail sketches--the non-jerk jock has to be a stealth non-jerk, because Jocks Are Jerks is written in stone somewhere.  Not because jocks are people who are sometimes not jerks, or because often someone gets to be popular by being really, really likeable.  Monument's Jake is a real person, a hand-shaking, back-slapping, let's-all-chill type of guy.  Yeah, he's got problems and plenty of flaws, but being a flat out jerk is not one of them.

What about Jerky Jock?  There's Safety, with a dude who elbows random strangers out of the way and runs someone down with his car, or there's Monument, with a dude who teases mercilessly, occasionally threatens, and steps up at least partway--you know, like a real human being--when the situation calls for.

So yeah, there's no way I could give Monument a lower score than Safety.  It was tighter, made more sense, and had a lot more of the good, meaty how-to details I love.  Plus, while the ending was not very resolved, at least it was an ending.  Definitely the winner of this kids-in-a-mall-off.

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