Image: Two kids, one holding a flashlight and one holding a scepter, walk down a dark suburban sidewalk with wide eyes. A tall, gangly figure with white eyes and sharp teeth looms over them, grinning. Text: "No Place for Monsters. Kory Merritt."

KidLit Book Review: No Place for Monsters by Kory Merritt


Synopsis

Levi and Kat are about to discover a very dark side to their neighborhood.

Nothing ever seems out of place in the safe, suburban town of Cowslip Grove. Lawns are neatly mowed, sidewalks are tidy, and the sounds of ice cream trucks fill the air. But now…kids have been going missing—except no one even realizes it, because no one remembers them. Not their friends. Not their teachers. Not even their families.

But Levi and Kat do remember, and suddenly only they can see why everyone is in terrible danger when the night air rolls in. Now it is up to Levi and Kat to fight it and save the missing kids before it swallows the town whole.


Details

  • Title: No Place for Monsters
  • Series: No Place for Monsters, Book 1
  • Author/Illustrator: Kory Merritt
  • Cover Artist: Kory Merritt
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN: 0358128536
  • Publication Date: September 15, 2020
  • For Ages: 8-12
  • Category: Middle Grade
  • Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? ☠️ Scary.

I’d like to thank HMH Books for Young Readers for providing an advance copy via Edelweiss+ in exchange for review consideration.


Review

No Place for Monsters is a campfire story about the places where campfires no longer exist. Set in a sleepy suburb, this illustrated middle grade novel shows that there are all kinds of monsters in the world and that a life of quiet conformity leaves kids ill-equipped to deal with any of them. With a decidedly unhappy (but open) ending and expressively eerie art, this book is creepy, imaginative, caustic, and mournful.

The story follows Levi and Kat, two grudging friends who discover that there’s a monster stealing children from their beds at night and erasing all memories of those children. Since the only people who remember the missing kids are Levi and Kat, they set out to find the monster and rescue the stolen children. The horror of being kidnapped by a monster while you sleep is eclipsed only by the horror of being forgotten. When the monster comes for Levi and Kat, they manage to escape, but their families forget who they are and see them as unwanted strangers. It’s a heartbreaking and disturbing moment of existential horror, seeing the blank fear and distrust on the faces of their family members when Levi and Kat abruptly learn that their homes are no longer safe places. (Though I’m not sure how safe Kat’s house ever was, based on her father’s characterization and her clear emotional trauma.)

Image: Two pages of text and black-and-white illustrations. On the left, a boy and a girl have a discussion in a classroom. On the right, the girl recounts a tale of alien abduction: she is shown being captured by a robot with tentacles and then grimacing as the "Brain Scanner Pro" is attached to her head and downloads her mind.

Therein lies the rub—author-illustrator Kory Merritt suggests that there are no safe places, and that any place that tries too hard to be safe is harmful in its own insidiously sterile way. His vision of suburbia is one of forced conformity and petty tyranny, where identical, perfectly manicured lawns dull our senses to the dangers and the wonders of the natural world, and power-mad homeowners associations try to stamp out anything that doesn’t fit their rigid definition of “normal.”

Merritt’s drawings are incredibly expressive—there’s a sense of barely controlled chaos to his art, and his scratchy, shadowy blacks reinforce the menace that lurks just below the idyllic suburban surface. The layouts are dynamic, propelling the story forward at breakneck speed, and the lettering often drips with fear and poison.

Image: Two pages of black-and-white illustrations with text. The background is deep black. A tall, gangly figure with sharp teeth and sharp fingernails tries to lead a boy out his bedroom window, until they are interrupted by someone unseen yelling, "HEY!!!"

“Sheltered” and “safe” are not the same thing. Rules that force people into lives of boring, mind-numbing conformity don’t keep monsters away; they just make it easier to ignore the monsters while they steal the things that matter most. No Place for Monsters is a biting look at suburban life and a truly scary story that tells kids that they’re right about the monsters hiding under the bed and lurking in the woods. It urges kids to stay weird, remember their friends, and always be on guard against the things that move in the shadows and the things that hide in plain sight.


Rating

I didn’t even get to mention the ice cream puns! I give this book 4 out of 5 coffins.

4 Coffins


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