YA protagonists being extraordinary because they’re the only one that can solve the mystery or they’re a genius or any variety of reasons are par for the course. Vic is not that kind of YA protagonist. He has no hobbies, no specialties in school, no particular sleuthing abilities or otherwise notable talents, and is a bit of an everyguy who doesn’t fit in but manages to get by mostly bullying-free with the help of his popular best friend Brett. His one standout quality is his stutter.
But the part we’re all curious about: his position as the alleged rapist and narrator at the same time. The premise makes it clear he didn’t do it, so that’s out of the way, and in-book, Callie slowly recalls more about what happened the night someone raped her at a party and comes to realize Vic did nothing more than help her upstairs to a bedroom. It may come off as a cop-out to some, but York makes it work in her novel’s favor by making it a piece of Vic’s motivation to get out and do something for once. (The majority of the reason being, of course, that he wants to help this poor, haunted girl find some peace because it may not have happened had he stayed with her. Like many would, he regrets leaving her alone to try and find a friend of hers.)
Since the rape victim herself is a background character of sorts to the admittedly predictable mystery of “who raped Callie?” and the slow-burn romance between Vic and Autumn (Callie’s best friend), readers who want rape myths confronted and the experience of the victim to be front and center may not be good fits for this novel. Despite the narrator not being the victim, Vic’s inner monologue and his conversations with other characters deftly drop hard truths about how we should discuss/treat rape and rape survivors. Nothing is anvilicious, but none of those truths will be easily missed either.
What Left Me Wanting:
The major flaw in Modern Monsters is that Vic is so unremarkable as a narrator that he isn’t able to be a fully developed character. Even the most unremarkable of people have their own quirks, talents, and hobbies. The quiet, blank-slate guy who works down the hall from you? Maybe he loves to do karaoke every week or binge-watches old sitcoms like I Love Lucy. The girl no one remembers from high school may be trying to work up the nerve to try out for a dance competition.
Readers who come into this looking for a hard-hitter like I did will likely find themselves in for an even tougher read than they think. All I can say is that the damage of rape is a few degrees closer to each of us than we’d like to think and Vic is no exception. Fans of dark contemporary novels will likely love York’s latest novel and want to check out her backlist. Between my experience with Modern Monsters and some good word one of my friends put in while I was reading, I know I plan to!
*good slow-burn romance
*lots of hard truths about how we treat/talk about rape