We Are Monsters: An Adult Fiction “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review …

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Ready to be party to some deep, well-pondered insights? Then you’ve come to the right place my friend. Today I have an adult fiction, horror tale for you in We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk. I was lucky enough to receive a copy from those masters of spookiness, Samhain Publishing, via Netgalley for review. Got your reinforced, monster-proofed reading gauntlets on? Then let’s have at it.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The Apocalypse has come to the Sugar Hill mental asylum.

He’s the hospital’s newest, and most notorious, patient—a paranoid schizophrenic who sees humanity’s dark side. Luckily he’s in good hands. Dr. Eli Alpert has a talent for healing tortured souls. And his protégé is working on a cure for schizophrenia, a drug that returns patients to their former selves. But unforeseen side effects are starting to emerge.

Forcing prior traumas to the surface.

Setting inner demons free.

Monsters have been unleashed inside the Sugar Hill mental asylum.

They don’t have fangs or claws. They look just like you or me.

we are monsters

So here are

Five Things I’ve Learned From

We Are Monsters

1. If you believe fiction writers, psychiatrists are always higher up the “Batshit Crazy” scale than their patients.

2. Psychiatrists always, ALWAYS have an ulterior motive. Even if it’s subconscious.

3. Unmonitored, experimental medicine always leads to trouble. Or a miracle cure. It depends on your viewpoint. And how uncomfortable you are about the possibility of having your psychotic hallucinations made flesh.

4. Reality is subjective. Unless you’re an inpatient of a mental institution. Then reality is objective and your version of it is clearly wrong.

 

5. If you are seeking inpatient care for mental health issues, always remember to ask about whether you will be subjected to experimental medicine. If yes, refer to point 3.

 

I’m in two minds about this book. On one hand, it is a hefty, action-packed, original tale with lots of twists and turns and characters with comprehensive backstories. On the other, it felt a bit overly long, used every cliché about psychiatrists (and patients) it is possible to use and kind of lost the plot in the middle.

Did I enjoy it? Yes.

Would I read it again? No.

Would I recommend it to lovers of psychological horror? Definitely.

So as you can see, We Are Monsters has inspired a crisis of ambiguity in me.

To begin with the positives, I thought that the first half of the book was very well-written, with a slow-build toward the inevitable catastrophe that is promised right from the start. As we are introduced to the three main characters – Eli, Alex and Angela – we get to see how the dynamics at Sugar Hill are primed for disaster, as Alex experiments with a new wonder drug for schizophrenia, Angela attempts to relate on a human level with a convicted serial killer and Eli wanders around in a fog of hippy altruism. We are treated to a few cheeky twists early on, discovering some possible motives around why Alex might be so desperate to perfect his new medicine and why he wants to keep Eli in the dark.

After a mini-climax in the middle of the book when the proverbial excrement hits the proverbial rotating cooling device, I did feel that the story lost its way a little. When our three main characters are plunged into what can only be described as an altered version of reality, the author spends a lot of time reliving the main characters’ backstories. I found that this section was overwhelming and slowed the pace considerably. By the end of the book, the rapid pace has resumed as certain characters regain normality and attempt to resolve the significant problems that have arisen during the time they were taking a holiday from conscious thought.

I suppose the way the author melded the realistic elements with elements of a psychological thriller and a paranormal story didn’t quite work for me. I definitely related to the jarring and disorientation that the main characters were experiencing, but I didn’t care enough about them to want them to come out the other side. In fact I would have been quite happy for them to have succumbed to unreality. I suspect this is because Eli and Alex in particular did really read like every bad stereotype of a psychiatrist that I’ve ever read, with Eli being all heart and Alex being all head. As for Angela…well, I just didn’t care for her. The serial killer seemed a nice enough chap though.

We Are Monsters will definitely satisfy if you are in the mood for a mind-bending tale that jolts you around and makes you question what is really going on. While elements of it didn’t really work for me, I think this is just due to personal tastes and I certainly wouldn’t dissuade anyone from trying this out if it’s your preferred genre.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Mind your own delusions: YA Fiction mixing mental health and fantasy themes…

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I am not abashed to admit that I spend a reasonable amount of time reading in the arena of Young Adult fiction.  This is a metaphorical arena, by the way, not a literal one. Just in case you were picturing my stony folds perched brightly on a stadium seat, clutching light refreshments, while adolescents, and authors catering to the same, fought it out in gladiator garb with paperbacks of varying thickness.  Not that such a spectacle would be necessarily negative, of course…it just wouldn’t be my scene.  But I digress.

Recently crossing my path have been a number of YA titles that combine main characters struggling with issues of mental health (or illness, depending on your viewpoint), with elements of fantasy or science fiction, with varying degrees of sucess.  I would now like to present three of these novels to you for your consideration.  Each offers something to engage those of you who, on seeing one more teen novel with a vampire/angel/demon/werewolf love story, would be prepared to enter the YA arena and fight to the death.

Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson centres around Alison, who has been placed into a psychiatric facility in connection with the disappearance of a school-mate.  The story initially follows Alison as she comes to terms with her current predicament and attempts to make sense of her partial memory loss, and the strange and overwhelming sensations flooding her brain. Consultation with the young, handsome Dr Faraday reveals Alison to be experiencing synesthesia – a neurological condition in which multiple senses are stimulated for single sensory input – and this has contributed to her recent difficulties.

The element of science fiction that is thrust into this story happens so unexpectedly that on first reading I felt as if the publisher had somehow mistakenly printed halves of two different books into the one binding.  I won’t give any clues here as to the nature of the fantastical element that is injected into the story because while it was a surprise to me, I felt the sudden change of direction enhanced the overall narrative.  Thus, revealing it may take away from the experience of first-time readers.

Anderson has created here a very different and engaging novel that combines well-drawn characters with a sufficiently intriguing setting.  The unexpected twist in the tale happens late enough in the piece to ensure that readers have cast their lot in with the main characters and will happily suspend disbelief for the ride to the finish.  I highly recommend this novel for teens (anyone, really) looking for something a bit different.

The Shiny Guys by Doug MacLeod centres around Colin, a young person who also finds himself in a psychiatric facility due to his admission that he can see creatures resembling giant, upright cockroaches at the periphery of his vision.  These are the “shiny guys” of the title.  During his treatment, Colin gets the chance to meet the shiny guys and finds that they are real and in need of his assistance.  The story follows Colin’s journey as he attempts to carry out the instructions given to him by the shiny guys.

By the end of the novel, the reader is left to decide how real Colin’s shiny guys are and this could leave some readers feeling uneasy about the character they have come to know.  However, this story, while presenting a dark and ultimately ambiguous ending, is enfused with a gentle humour throughout that endears the reader to Colin and the other young people sharing Ward 44.

Admittedly, of the three books presented here, this was far and away my favourite.  It is definitely worth a look as it presents a realistic look (despite the giant insects) at the experiences of young people dealing with mental illness. Extra points for an Australian author also.

 Shift by Em Bailey relates the story of Olive, a teen returning to school after spending some time in a mental health clinic, and her self-imposed exile from her old, popular friends.  She now spends school days with new friend Ami, avoiding the malicious intentions of her ex-best friend, and the friendly advances of the new boy.  Enter Miranda, another new student, who Olive and Ami believe is a shapeshifter, slowly stealing the personality and position of her victim until she is the most popular girl in school.

This story is easily the weakest of the three presented here – it is Bailey’s first novel for the teen market and she may have been somewhat overambitious in what she was trying to achieve here.  This story did not have the genuine feel needed to provide an anchor for the reader when casting off their disbelief.  The characters seemed two-dimensional and some elements of the plot – including the death of one of the featured characters – seemed glossed over, without the emotional impact that one would expect for such events.

Despite this, Shift provides plenty of elements that would be attractive to the early teen reader – friendship dramas, the difficulties of establishing one’s identity in front of peers, tentative young love.  The fantasy elements also, while mostly overshadowed by normal human dramas, and at times unwieldy, give this novel its point of difference.  For that reason alone, I recommend it as a breath of fresh air for those tired of the standard boy meets “girl/boy turns out to be undead/girl meets similarly undead, but hotter boy etc” fare.

So, launch yourself into the arena if you haven’t already – and be armed with these recommendations…for it is dangerous to go alone….I’ve heard.

Until next time,

Bruce