Monday, November 21, 2016

Monsterville: A Lissa Black Production by Sarah S. Reida, 2016

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Thirteen-year-old Lissa Black is miserable when her parents force her to move from New York City (the perfect home for an aspiring writer/director/actress) to Freeburg, Pennsylvania, nowhere capital of the world. There’s nothing to do there, except play her little sister Haylie’s favorite new game, Monsterville, and hang out with her new neighbor Adam.
But when a walk in the woods lands her face-to-face with a swamp monster hungry for brains and then a Sasquatch that moos, even Lissa can’t call her new home totally boring. With Adam’s help, she catches the culprit behind the drama: a shape-shifting goblin who’s fled from the monster world of Down Below.
And what do you do with a creature that can be literally anything? Make monster movies, of course! Lissa is convinced that Blue will be the secret to her big break.
But when Haylie goes missing on Halloween, Lissa, Adam, and the monster must venture Down Below to stage a rescue—and face the real Monsterville, which is anything but a game.
Monsterville is a fusion of The Boxtrolls, Jumanji, and Candyland, weaving together friendship, family, and monsters into a funny fantasy-horror brimming with heart from a great new middle grade voice.

(368 pages)

Wow. This was . . . very different from what I was expecting it to be. In the best possible sort of way! I'm really regretting not reading it around Halloween time because it would have been gotten me into the perfect spooky mood. It's definitely got a very high creep factor in it, but not in an over-the-top unpleasant sort of way.

The first thing that really made the story for me, right from the first few chapters, was Lissa's narration. She's absolutely obsessed with filmography, so half the time she describes a scene she compares it to some classic film or describes how she would film it if her life were a movie. These extra details add a very creative angle to the novel and provide many instances of picturesque imagery that we wouldn't get otherwise. Besides enjoying Lissa's narration, I also just really connected with her as a character. It's all too rare to find a main character who loves small children and is great at babysitting. For Lissa, though, acting as a "mini mother" seems to come naturally. In fact, especially toward the second half of the novel, she often behaves more like Hailey's mother than her older sister! Lissa's reaction to moving from New York to middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania is also very realistic: she's mad, and grouchy, and at first refuses to admit that there might be anything good about the entire state of Pennsylvania. Honestly, that's how I usually feel when I move somewhere new. Lissa's evolution of emotions (and the reliable, yet increasingly distant, support she gets from her friends back in New York) ring true to my own moving experiences.

So basically, Lissa is exactly like me with a love for movies swapped out for my obsession with books. Good. That right there guarantees I'll enjoy at least a large part of the book. But did I love it? Yes, absolutely. I adored Adam, Lissa's next-door neighbor who allows himself to get dragged along for the ride in exchange for nothing more than the opportunity to show Lissa reasons why she shouldn't hate Pennsylvania. The cynical part of me says he's a little too perfect to be a real person, but I'm not in the mood to listen to it. He's awesome. Hailey herself is adorable, very realistic (if a tad too cooperative at times–but then, maybe my younger siblings are just wilder than most). The side characters we meet from Lissa's new and old school all ring true in the small roles that they're given.

But now for the monsters. And I have to say, this is one of the more horrific premises for a novel that I've read in a while. The further you get into the story, the worse it gets; by the time the main characters are stumbling through Down Below, facing terrible monsters in their quest to find Hailey, things are pretty hard-core. If you stop and think about the reason Hailey's been kidnapped, they're positively horrific.

At the same time, though, like I said: I really loved reading Monsterville. Maybe it's just the fact that it's a middle-grade novel, but no matter how dark things got I never felt like it was going to end in total tragedy. I'm not usually one for horror, but I actually adored Monsterville. It had just the right mixture of family (including not-dead, emotionally-invested parents!), friendship, love, and tension. It also ended on a sort-of cliffhanger, and I am definitely ready for the sequel. Someone please tell me it will be out in time for next Halloween!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


  1. Sounds cool! Every once in a while, I like a spooky read (just not too scary). This one might do the trick sometime! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Tarissa! I will definitely take a look at "A Literary Christmas." And I hope you like Monsterville if you do decide to give it a try!

  2. I wanted to mention that I’m hosting a Christmas read-along called "A Literary Christmas" on my blog this year. If you sign-up, you can link to all your holiday book posts on the linky!



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