The Monster In The Hollows, CSFF Blog Tour Day 3 – A Review

Andrew Peterson doodled this picture of Leeli in the midst of writing The Monster In The Hollows

Fun aside, important meanings aside, is The Monster In The Hollows (Rabbit Room Press) a book you should buy? If you’ve visited other CSFF Blog Tour participants this week, you know there is universal acclaim for this book, within a range of an enjoyable read to an inevitable classic. But what does that tell you?

Reviews are as good as the reliability you ascribe to them. It’s good to know a reviewer’s standards and tastes. The closer they are to your own, the more reliable the review.

But when you see reviewers of different strips all agreeing, that says something powerful. What I find especially interesting is that tour participants enjoyed this book for different reasons and on different levels. Some of us think it’s light and fun and full of humor. Some think this one was the darkest and most adult of the Saga books so far. Some were captured by the artistry, others by the themes. Some cried, others laughed. But regardless, the reading experience seems to have been universally enjoyable. Here are some of the most recent “don’t miss” posts.

  • Thomas Clayton Booher voices the “it’s a classic” opinion in his day three post, together with an excellent look at why adults read children’s fiction.
  • Shannon McDermott gives a series analogy of one of the secondary characters — Sock Man Peet who is actually Artham Wingfeather — explaining how a character can capture the hearts of readers.
  • Sarah Sawyer discusses the use of the arts in The Wingfeather Saga. Very appropriate since Andrew himself is a singer/songwriter and artist as well as a writer.
  • As she did with book one, Nichole White reviewed the second in the Saga. What marks this as special is the way she weaved her own reading experience into the article. I experienced the delight all over again as I followed her from page one to the days of contemplation after reaching the end.

With all these great posts for you to read, I’ll keep my review brief.

The Story. The Igibys sail the Dark Sea of Darkness to reach the Green Hollows where Nia Igiby grew up with her crusty pirate father, Podo Igiby and her mother, now deceased. After surviving a harrowing attack, they are initially welcomed warmly by the Hollowsfolk — until Nia introduces her son, Kalmar Wingfeather, heir to the throne of Anniera and outwardly still very much a Grey Fang.

When Nia invokes an old tradition and forces the hand of the Keeper and the chiefs of the Hollows, the Igiby/Wingfeathers are allowed to take refuge in this last stronghold standing against Gnag the Nameless.

If only the Hollowsfolk didn’t stare at Kalmar as if he were a monster. If only the brutish bully at the school didn’t persist on taunting him. If only the Cloven loose from the Blackwoods didn’t seem to be after the Igiby children. If only the Cloven was the only thing after them.

Strengths. Humor. Depth. Suspense. Unpredictable twists. Lovable characters. Artistry. Word play. The Monster In The Hollows is a great read-aloud book, perfect for a family with children twelve and under. It’s a great individual read for people ten and up. Adults will love it just as much as kids and maybe more.

This is the kind of book and series that children will grow up and re-read, then read aloud to their kids. It will be loved and praised and given as gifts over and over again. This is a keeper.

Weaknesses. For all that, you’d think I wouldn’t have anything to say here in the “weakness” section of the review. I do, however. As I’ve commented elsewhere during the tour, I think Andrew Peterson is a step away from C. S. Lewis. He has the talent and the imagination and the depth and the joy. He has the voice — a wonderful storyteller quality that makes readers feel like they’re cozying up around a fire or snuggled under the covers as a master tells a tale of monsters and love and life.

OK, this doesn’t sound like “weaknesses,” I realize. Here’s what I think can move Andrew to the next level, the breakout level where readers of all stripes — Christians, grannies, teens, those wary of religion, book lovers — everyone with a passion for a good story, will clamor for his next book. It’s a little thing really. I believe in this climate of literature the young adult in the young adult novel needs to be the agent making things happen.

In Monster, the main character, Janner, has a clear desire — he wants to live at peace and have as normal a life as possible. The problem is, his circumstances don’t allow him to do anything to try and achieve what he wants. Hence his role for much of the book is passive or reactive.

The thing is, all the characters are delightful. I’m pulling for Leeli as much as I am Janner. I want Nia to find happiness, too. I want Kalmar to grow into his role as the future kind and to find acceptance in the Hollows.

I have to wonder, however, how much better the story would be if the main character were the main agent. The best part of book two, North! Or Be Eaten, in my opinion, was the section in which Janner, separated from his family, needed to take action or accept his fate as a Fork Factory tool. I was in his corner cheering him on and fearing that his every decision would lead to a worse situation than the already hopeless one he was in. It was compelling.

The parts I loved most in Monster were also places where Janner acted with heroism. As I see it, there needs to be more of such — the main character going after what he wants and meeting opposition, failing, and trying again, failing, and trying something new.

Andrew is such a gifted writer that his many strengths carry the day even when the main character seems passive. Eventually other beloved characters take action, and the story progresses to a fitting climax.

Recommendation. Fantasy lovers of all ages should buy this book. Parents or teachers looking for a read-aloud should buy this book. Adults looking for a gift for their ten to twelve year old son or daughter, niece or nephew, granddaughter or grandson, should buy this book. In actuality, they should all buy the first and second of the series too and start from the beginning. The Wingfeather Saga is a keeper. Then keep a look out for the conclusion of the series, The Warden And The Wolf King.

OK, so I didn’t do a particularly good job of making this review short. Guess that means you all can have your money back. 😉

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

5 Comments

  1. I just heard Vicky Alvear Shecter, who wrote Cleopatra’s Moon, and one thing she said really struck me. Her editor, the brilliant Cheryl Klein, kept telling her that her protagonist had to have agency.

    I think you editors are right on this one. I also liked Janner in that fork factory. It was great watching him act and fearing for him.

    Thanks for the review and links.

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  2. Cool doodle! I agree about Janner needing to be more active in making the outcome happen. I thought it was interesting though, that we see what’s going on through Janner’s eyes, and he doesn’t really understand what Kalmar is doing, but Kalmar is actually very busy in the background, making the story happen.

    I haven’t decided yet what to post about for Day 3. Comments are welcome on Days 1 and 2 (for everyone but Becky, who already knows: my name didn’t somehow make it into the blog tour list, but I am participating)

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  3. Janner was proactive in the situations he found himself in – stopping the bullying at school, pulling Artham out of his temporary madness, finding out the truth about the cloven. But it’s true: Those situations were foisted on him by the decisions and actions of others.

    I think his more reactive stance is due partly to the fact that he’s a twelve-year-old living under a functioning parent. Think how much was forced on Janner by his mother’s very simple, very parental decision to send him to school.

    This must be why so many YA books separate their young protagonists from the care and authority of their parents. It is only then that teenagers and children can act as fully independent agents. Even C. S. Lewis begins the adventures by putting the children in a whole other world from their parents.

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  4. This must be why so many YA books separate their young protagonists from the care and authority of their parents. Shannon, this book made me think about that, too. Or why some are orphans, or the stories are set in a time when children could play unsupervised for hours at a time.

    Yes, even C. S. Lewis separated his children from their parents, either physically or emotionally.

    But as far as this one is concerned, I think it’s interesting that a child still played a major part in the climax. It just wasn’t Janner. Andrew set it up well, and foreshadowed it so it was completely believable. And as I said in my post, I love all the characters, so it wasn’t a deal breaker. I just think for his books to take that next step, this is what he needs.

    Becky

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  5. […] the recent blog tour of Monster in the Hollows, Becky Miller explored what she believed to be the book’s primary weakness: the fact that Janner, the main […]

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