Destroy All Monsters: Aims high but doesn’t quite hit

Destroy All Monsters by Sam J. Miller science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsDestroy All Monsters by Sam J. Miller science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsDestroy All Monsters by Sam J. Miller

It’s interesting reading Sam J. Miller’s Destroy All Monsters (2019) with Akwaeke Emezi’s Pet still fresh in my mind. Both novels deal with child abuse and the question of what a “monster” is. Clearly, these themes are out there in the zeitgeist, and they’re resonating with readers; both books have been named Locus finalists in the Young Adult category.

Destroy All Monsters alternates between two points of view: high school best friends Ash and Solomon. Ash is an aspiring photographer on the trail of a group that’s been committing hateful acts of vandalism around town. Solomon is struggling with a mental illness and sees the world through a fantastical lens; in his hallucinations (or visions), he rides a dinosaur, Ash is a refugee princess, and both are in danger because they are “othersiders” — people who have magic. Both teens have one big hole in their memory: a night when they were twelve years old and something terrible happened.

Sam J. Miller

Sam J. Miller

Solomon’s fantasy storyline runs parallel to Ash’s “real world” one, but this is confusing for much of the book. Sometimes the two narratives are not parallel enough; for example, Solomon’s stepbrother Connor is Ash’s sexy friend-with-benefits in her chapters and a little kid in Solomon’s. There turns out to be a reason for this, but it’s kind of an icky whiplash when you’re in the middle of it. Other times, they’re too synced up. Sometimes Solomon will have the same conversation, verbatim, that Ash just had, even though Solomon wasn’t there for the latter. This was distracting, because I started expecting a twist where it would turn out that either Ash or Solomon did not really exist and was a figment of the other’s imagination.

The ending is moving in terms of the interpersonal relationships, but left me dissatisfied in terms of the magical elements. I felt that it conflated the creative imagination with mental illness in a way that was kind of a disservice to both.

Destroy All Monsters is an ambitious, experimental book that aims high but, for me at least, doesn’t quite hit. It’s just too confusing for too long. It might be worth a shot if you’re interested in mental-illness themes, though, and I would also recommend Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep, which similarly alternates between real-world and hallucinatory chapters.

Published in 2019. A crucial, genre-bending tale, equal parts Ned Vizzini and Patrick Ness, about the life-saving power of friendship. Solomon and Ash both experienced a traumatic event when they were twelve. Ash lost all memory of that event when she fell from Solomon’s treehouse. Since then, Solomon has retreated further and further into a world he seems to have created in his own mind. One that insulates him from reality, but crawls with foes and monsters . . . in both animal and human form. As Solomon slips further into the place he calls Darkside, Ash realizes her only chance to free her best friend from his pain is to recall exactly what happened that day in his backyard and face the truth—together. Fearless and profound, Sam J. Miller’s follow up to his award-winning debut novel, The Art of Starving, spins an intimate and impactful tale that will linger with readers.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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