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Monument 14 - Emmy Laybourne If you want to read about surviving a cataclysmic disaster – Ashfall does it better. If you want to read about people turning mysteriously and insanely violent – Dark Inside does it better. If you want to read about a disparate group of kids holed up Breakfast Club style– This is Not a Test does it better. I still don’t know what Monument 14 set out to achieve. Was it to be a gripping and intense survival story? A nightmarish portrayal of government experimentation gone wrong and let loose on the unsuspecting population? A Lord of the Flies style examination of human nature and the conflict between individuality and the common good? Because Monument 14 does none of things exceptionally well, let alone successfully combine all three. This is baffling because while the novel contains many of the necessary elements for a suspenseful, high-stakes plot, the result falls flat. After a brisk start, the story becomes tedious and trivial. And though it’s arguable that being stuck in a department store is bound to become tedious, I felt that some opportunities to write something truly compelling were wasted. Monument 14 is related by Dean, unofficial scribe of the group, who begins to record events in a notebook (considered quaint in the undisclosed future the story is set in). Dean wants to be a writer, and is referred to as a “booker” by jocks Jake and Brayden. The writing itself is straightforward and concise. Dean (or Laybourne) prefers to tell rather than show, and there’s a short, sharp cadence to the narration. The opening chapters of the novel adequately capture the shock and fear of the group in the aftermath of the mega-tsunami, as they begin to discover that the violent hail storm is the least of their worries. From there, however, things descend into petty power struggles, boredom and ransacking of the store shelves, which is far less interesting than it should be. Former boy-scout Niko tries to maintain order, Brayden and Jake get drunk and high, Josie becomes a surrogate mother to the smaller children, Dean lusts after Astrid from afar.They try to deal with the issues of dwindling electricity, head lice and avoiding the contaminated air. These are all issues that might reasonably be faced by a group of teens and children in such a situation, but there was no real sense of urgency or threat. The reasons for staying inside (homicidal maniacs, unstable conditions, unleashed chemical (?) weaponry) were not really developed or part of the story enough to create adequate tension for the plot. Still, I might have enjoyed this book more had it not been for the manner in which Laybourne chose to instigate the climax. Of all the ways events could have been set in motion, why that one? Why? This is a disaster situation. There’s no running water. There are crazy, violent people outside. There’s some kind of air-borne, blood-type based weapon attacking people. SO WHY THAT? Why trigger things with an attempted rape? Further, it felt like the character’s (Sahalia, who is thirteen) development up to that point was merely to ensure some other characters would question whether or not to believe her. There are a couple of really squicky scenes in which Laybourne depicts Sahalia’s flirting and sexual awareness (and the boys’ responses) which seems like shorthand for justifying why the characters might think she instigated the situation in which she was attacked. (Read: because they think she’s a slut.) While I don’t believe that this is Laybourne’s stance on Sahalia’s behaviour, the way it was used to set up the climax was extremely problematic for me. Ugh. Frankly, it was unnecessary and very poorly handled. Tossing in a sexual assault to progress the plot is not okay. Monument 14 really missed the mark for me. So much of the potential went to waste here, and I do believe there was potential. It’s beyond me why the real elements of threat weren’t more fully developed and used in the story, because leaving it until book two is far too late for me.