Monday, November 03, 2008

Book/Magazine Review: Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

Pretty Monsters is Kelly Link's latest short story collection aimed at young adults. My young adult phase passed a long time ago but personally, I found this book to be as deep and packed as Link's Magic for Beginners and Stranger Things Happen.

First thing that caught my eye is the overall aesthetic of the book. The book jacket, designed by Will Staeble, is upbeat and eye-catching, whether it's simply the presentation of the blurbs or the text on the cover flap. Shaun Tan's art also precedes each story including an apt phrase or two below the neat and refined illustration.

As for the stories themselves, there are nine all in all, with one story original to this collection, the titular "Pretty Monsters". Most of the stories are recent although it does reprint a few stories from her earlier books. The featured stories covers a wide spread, from the absurd and the surreal, to the conventional. Each one unanimously packs a punch and while they are all quite lengthy, I'm amazed at how great they stand up to re-reading (because I'm a Link fan and I've encountered several of them before). Whether this is appropriate for young adults though remains to be seen. Perhaps what makes it apt for that audience is the fact that many of the protagonists are teens and Link does capture their mentality in some of the stories.

I won't waste your time, here's the low-down on Link's featured piece, "Pretty Monsters". It starts out like a traditional story switching back and forth between two seemingly different stories. Link writes with an authentic young adult voice, whether it's the girl pining for her crush or the pressures of being part of a clique. For the most part, Link isn't heavy-handed in her storytelling and there are lots of nuances to the text. And then it all culminates to a powerful ending that has that distinctive Kelly Link signature style. Easily a great and memorable story.

Other stories which particularly caught my eye were "Monster" and "The Surfer". The former is a summer camp story full of excitement and confusion but it all boils down to the characterization of the one boy who doesn't fit in. The author ensnares the reader in an emotional ringer before unleashing the aforementioned monster upon them and it's a delightful yet terrifying scene. The latter, on the other hand, lacks Link's trademark of the absurd or the unbelievable but she makes up for it with good old fashioned storytelling. Again, this story comes down to characterization and the author excels at it. "Surfer" is also a story where Link indulges her science fiction fan by name-dropping a couple of SF novels.

Overall this was a satisfying read and features an interesting perspective on the type of stories that Link writes. There's also the inclusion of the author's staples such as "Magic for Beginners" and "The Faery Handbag" which round up the collection for anyone in doubt.

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