Vic Howard never wanted to go to the party. He's the Invisible Guy at school, a special kind of hell for quiet, nice guys. But because his best friend is as popular as Vic is ignored, he went... And wished he hadn't. Because something happened to a girl that night. Something terrible, unimaginable, and Callie Wheeler's life will never be the same. Plus, now Callie has told the police that Vic is responsible. Suddenly, Invisible Vic is painfully visible, on trial both literally, with the police, and figuratively, with the angry kids at school. As the whispers and violence escalate, he becomes determined to clear his name, even if it means an uneasy alliance with Callie's best friend, the beautiful but aloof Autumn Dixon. But as Autumn and Vic slowly peel back the layers of what happened at the party, they realize that while the truth can set Vic free, it can also shatter everything he thought he knew about his life...
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
What worked: This is an intriguing twist on the whole rape premise. Usually we read about victims of this horrific crime but in this case it's the nice guy who is falsely accused while others figure it's okay to use him as the scapegoat. Vic is an average teen who doesn't feel comfortable around his peers due to a case of stuttering. He would be that guy that most wouldn't even notice as he would blend into surroundings. He's also the type of boy that some girls might not take seriously other than being a friend. So I did like when there was a hint of a possible romance.
I admit, I felt bad for Vic for being accused of such a horrific crime and couldn't believe his own mother would turn her back on him. A terrible revelation later in the story gives readers a better understanding behind his mother's indifference.
The whole subject of irresponsible drinking and rape is a sensitive topic and one that needs to be addressed. I did like that readers are shown a teen that chooses to make better choices in this kind of environment. The harsh reality though is that there are those who don't do the right thing and then try to find someone else to take the blame. The author does a good job of showing how easy this can happen.
I did have some problems with a few things. One had to do with legal technicalities on an accused person being able to get in contact with the one who accuses him. I thought Vic would have reacted in a different matter or an adult would have commented on this. I couldn't help but wonder why Autumn would have been so fast to want Vic to help find the true rapist. Sure, she basically kicks his butt the first time he encounters her but after that? She was almost too quick to have him help.
I also felt the ending was abrupt with a lot going on all at once. I won't say what exactly as that would be a major spoiler but I think concentrating on the final reveal(which surprised me) and then go from there would have been enough. But that's just me.
An haunting glimpse into a party gone bad and the real monsters who chose someone to take the fall without caring about the consequences. But mostly this is a story of a teen who ends up finding his voice and the courage to right his name in face of almost unbeatable odds.