Serena’s Review: “Only a Monster”

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Book: “Only a Monster” by Vanessa Len

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, February 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: It should have been the perfect summer. Sent to stay with her late mother’s eccentric family in London, sixteen-year-old Joan is determined to enjoy herself. She loves her nerdy job at the historic Holland House, and when her super cute co-worker Nick asks her on a date, it feels like everything is falling into place.

But she soon learns the truth. Her family aren’t just eccentric: they’re monsters, with terrifying, hidden powers. And Nick isn’t just a cute boy: he’s a legendary monster slayer, who will do anything to bring them down.

As she battles Nick, Joan is forced to work with the beautiful and ruthless Aaron Oliver, heir to a monster family that hates her own. She’ll have to embrace her own monstrousness if she is to save herself, and her family. Because in this story . . .

. . . she is not the hero.

Review: This book seems to be getting a decent amount of hype, and a lot of reviewers have been rating it pretty highly. That, plus the super cool cover, was enough for me to place a request. But while I can see why it’s been a hit for many, sadly, it wasn’t quite for me.

Joan’s world explodes one day on what should have been a simple date with her crush, Nick. But it turns out that Nick is a famous monster hunter and, what would you know, Joan herself comes from a family of monsters. Suddenly drawn into an age-old war, Joan must quickly learn what she is capable of. In her battle against Nick, she’s joined by Aaron, a young man from a rival monster family. With him comes more questions and, potentially, another foe? Not knowing who to trust, Joan must race to save her family from ruthless forces on either side.

So, there’s a lot going for this book right off the bat. The idea itself is quite interesting. It’s hard to really go into much of the abilities and situation around Joan’s “monstrousness” without getting into some pretty major spoiler territory, but I will say that the main twist to this book took me completely by surprise. The book description does a good job of setting up the stakes of the story without giving away any clues as to how exactly all of this comes to pass. And it’s a pretty big “how.”

For her part, I thought Joan was a fairly compelling heroine. I liked that so much of the story was based around her love for her family and her drive to save them from a dark fate. I did have some quibbles about how this character was handled with her execution of that desire to save her family. She knows literally nothing about this monster world that opens up to her, but she goes in with guns blazing playing with incredibly high stakes. On one hand, I like this type of brash character; but on the other hand, the way she was written didn’t acknowledge just how brash and crazy some of these actions were. She definitely could have used a bit more questioning and investigation of everything involved before diving in so fully. I mean, by the end of the book, even I was left with some questions. For one thing, the term “monster” was a big question mark for me from beginning to the end, and I never felt like much explanation was given as to why that term was used.

I also really didn’t like the so-called “romance.” It’s sold as an “enemies to lovers” romance, something that I’m definitely all for, generally. And we have two options set up with both Nick (the monster hunter) and Aaron (the family rival), and yet I never really connected with the romance with either. There were also some fairly convenient moments towards the end of the book that resolved some of these things in what I felt were fairly unsatisfying ways.

All told, I think this book has a lot of potential to connect with a lot of YA fantasy readers. It’s fast-paced, original, and Joan is a compelling leading lady. I will say that those looking for a solid romance may end up being disappointed by this one. But readers less interested in that aspect might want to give this one a shot!

Rating 7: A major twist carries this book through, but the romance fails to hold up it’s own weight in the equation.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Only a Monster” is on these Goodreads lists: Fantasy Frenemies and 2022 YA Historical Fiction.

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