Pretty Monsters: A pretty good collection

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy story collection book review Kelly Link Pretty MonstersPretty Monsters by Kelly Link

Pretty Monsters is Kelly Link’s latest short story collection aimed at young adults. My young adult phase passed a long time ago but I found this book to be as deep and packed as Link’s Magic for Beginners and Stranger Things Happen.

The first thing that caught my eye is the overall aesthetic of the book. The jacket, designed by Will Staeble, is upbeat and eye-catching, whether it’s simply the presentation of the blurbs or the text on the cover flap. Shaun Tan’s art also precedes each story and there’s an apt phrase or two below the neat and refined illustration.

As for the stories themselves, there are nine all in all, with one story original to this collection, the titular “Pretty Monsters.” Most of the stories are recent, although there are a few reprints of stories from her earlier books (e.g., “Magic for Beginners” and “The Faery Handbag”). The featured stories are diverse — from the absurd and the surreal to the conventional. Each one packs a punch and while they are all quite lengthy, I’m amazed at how great they stand up to re-reading (because I’m a Link fan and I’ve encountered several of them before). Whether this is appropriate for young adults though remains to be seen. Perhaps what makes it apt for that audience is the fact that many of the protagonists are teens and Link does capture their mentality in some of the stories.

Kelly Link’s featured piece, “Pretty Monsters,” is written with an authentic young adult voice, whether it’s the girl pining for her crush or the pressures of being part of a clique. For the most part, Link isn’t heavy-handed in her storytelling and there are lots of nuances to the text. And then it all culminates to a powerful ending that has that distinctive Kelly Link style. Easily a great and memorable story.

Other stories I particularly enjoyed were “Monster” and “The Surfer.” The former is a summer camp story full of excitement and confusion but it all boils down to the characterization of the one boy who doesn’t fit in. Link ensnares the reader in an emotional ringer before unleashing the monster upon them and it’s a delightful yet terrifying scene. The latter, on the other hand, lacks Link’s trademark of the absurd or the unbelievable, but she makes up for it with good old-fashioned storytelling and excellent characterization.

Overall Pretty Monsters was a satisfying read.

FanLit thanks Charles Tan from Bibliophile Stalker for contributing this guest review.

Pretty Monsters — (2008) Young adult. Publisher: Kelly Link has lit up adult literary publishing — and Viking is honored to publish her first YA story collection. Through the lens of Link’s vivid imagination, nothing is what it seems, and everything deserves a second look. From the multiple award-winning “The Faery Handbag,” in which a teenager’s grandmother carries an entire village (or is it a man-eating dog?) in her handbag, to the near-future of “The Surfer,” whose narrator (a soccer-playing skeptic) waits with a planeload of refugees for the aliens to arrive, Link’s stories are funny and full of unexpected insights and skewed perspectives on the world. Her fans range from Michael Chabon to Peter Buck of R.E.M. to Holly Black of Spiderwick Chronicles fame. Now teens can have their world rocked, too!

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CHARLES TAN, one of our guest reviewers, is the owner of the blogs Bibliophile Stalker and Comic Quest. He also edits Philippine Speculative Fiction. You can read his fiction in that publication and in The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories. Charles has conducted interviews for The Nebula Awards and The Shirley Jackson Awards, as well as for online magazines such as SF Crowsnest and SFScope. He is a regular contributor to sites like SFF Audio and Comics Village.

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