Yes, my dear child, monsters are real. I happen to have one hanging in my basement.
Rick Yancey’s story revolves around Dr. Wathrop who investigates and studies monsters — he’s the Monstrumologist. The setting is late 19th century New England, and the Monstrumologist has taken in Will Henry, the orphan of his former assistant. It’s through this young apprentice’s eyes that Yancey tells his tale of mythological monsters run amuck in pre-industrial Massachusetts. The Monstrumologist is a creepy, gothic, young-adult horror novel, and it’s a fun read.
The doctor is quirky and obsessed – he’d probably be diagnosed with Asperger’s’ Syndrome by modern therapists. He knows his monsters, but he’s not so good with people, and Yancey does a terrific job at building the Monstrumologists’ mystique and myth while giving him ample room to grow over the course of the story.
Yancey’s plot is uncomplicated and a little mundane. There’s good action throughout and enough gore to creep out even the most experienced adult horror reader. But Yancey does not write ‘down’ to a young-adult audience. It’s the story that qualifies The Monstrumologist as young adult – not the writing. The writing is gothic, and solidly evokes the time and setting of the story. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in terms of the very genuine context, era and tone that Yancey’s language invokes.
In this passage, Dr. Wathrop reflects on worldwide monster investigations:
Some so strange and marvelous you would think you were dreaming. Some strange and not so marvelous, as dark and frightening as your very worst nightmare. I have seen wonders that poets can only imagine. And I have seen things that would turn grown men into squalling babes at their mother’s feet. So many things. So many places…
Yancey builds the story’s underlying themes through smart inner monologue and wizened advice from the doctor to his young apprentice: Fear consumes the truth and poisons all the evidence, leading us to false assumptions and irrational conclusions.
I very much enjoyed The Monstrumologist – the first in a series from Yancey, and winner of the 2010 Michael L. Printz Honor Award for excellence in young adult literature.
It’s not specifically scary, but the imagery is clear and bold. The language is smart and the themes are rather heavy. A squeamish reader may want to take a pass, as the book is not for children (under 4th or 5th grade based on individual maturity). All others should jump in.
The Monstronumologist — (2009-2013) Young adult. Publisher: These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me… and the one who cursed me. So begins the journal of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore War throp, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a grueso me find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet. Critically acclaimed author Rick Yancey has written a gothic tour de force that explores the darkest heart of man and monster and asks the question: When does a man become the very thing he hunts?