The world is a dragon; my book a shield.
Sophie believes a witch cursed her when she was a baby and she now spends much of her time with her head down, reading and rereading The Big Book of Monsters. She uses it to help identify and protect herself against the monsters surrounding her that are cleverly disguised as humans and searching for clues to figure out what kind of monster she is so she can find a cure. She’s also hiding her face from the world because she’s ashamed of her ‘monster mark’, a hemangioma (blood tumour) that appeared when she was only a few months old.
I really liked Sophie for the most part but she also made me really sad. My heart ached for her each time she called herself a monster and every time someone stared, pointed at her or bullied her. She’s so self conscious because of her ‘monster mark’ and spent so much time looking out for danger that she missed out on having a lot of fun.
With Sophie always on the lookout for the mythological creatures from her beloved book she’s able to find the magical in people, but she can also find the monster in people whose behaviour doesn’t warrant the title. I found it interesting that for a girl who is eager to hide her face from the world she was quick to judge others based on physical attributes. She matches up what she’s read with those she meets and random circumstances that she attributes to them (like the wind blowing) confirm to her that the person is really a monster. This can result in wholly inaccurate assumptions based on first impressions; Kelsi is the best example of this. He’s adorable and the voice of reason in this book, yet Sophie is certain he’s a dangerous shapeshifter.
I loved Autumn, Sophie’s friend, who’s eager to play along when Sophie tells her she’s a fairy. Given what Autumn’s family are dealing with it makes sense that her lively imagination helps buffer her from painful reality.
I think my favourite character would have been Mrs Barrett if she’d played a larger role. I was disappointed when she started to fade into the background and would have loved more scenes with her in them.
I don’t know that Ms. Cloe’s role in Sophie’s life was introduced. I assumed she was a therapist (I spent the entire book waiting for someone to finally get this girl some counselling) but wondered why a therapist would be giving a client a present. Sophie had to win a game with her mother and Ms. Cloe to get the prize, which I’m guessing Sophie’s mother bought, although this isn’t stated. Since the game involved chance, rolling dice and moving around a board, it was pretty convenient that Sophie won.
Content warnings: A subplot deals with a sick child who is hospitalised. An animal is injured but does not die. There are hints that a character is being bullied and possibly abused at home but this is not dealt with other than their behaviour being explained away because of it.
Initially I loved the excerpts from Sophie’s monster book between each chapter because of my love for mythology, although I did have trouble finding the connection between excerpts and their surrounding chapters at times. The excerpts did get a bit of a preachy vibe towards the end, focusing more on being a good person than monsters. Not that there’s anything wrong with the whole ‘be a good person’ thing but I was really enjoying reading about the mythological creatures.
The cover image is wonderful and drew me to the book in the first place. I particularly liked the monster marks added to the font on the title. I did notice that in the book Sophie’s monster mark is on the right side of her face and the cover illustration shows her hair hiding the left side of her face. Once I noticed that I naturally couldn’t unsee it.
Now for the part of the review that I agonised about and the entire reason it took me almost two days to post my review after finishing reading. I want to make it clear that I read an ARC so this may not be an issue in the final version of the book. With that in mind, if I hadn’t committed to reviewing this book I would have abandoned it as soon as one of Sophie’s classmates was introduced (at 58%) as the cringeworthy and offensive ”Zac the spaz”, regardless of how much I was enjoying it prior to then. Fair or not, that word tainted my enjoyment of the book from that point on so I’m really hoping this will not make it into the final version of the book. I expect this would have been a 4 star read for me if it wasn’t for that horrendous word.
Thank you to NetGalley and Shadow Mountain Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
There are trolls, goblins, and witches. Which kind of monster is Sophie?
Sophie is a monster expert. Thanks to her Big Book of Monsters and her vivid imagination, Sophie can identify the monsters in her school and neighbourhood. Clearly, the bullies are trolls and goblins. Her nice neighbour must be a good witch, and Sophie’s new best friend is obviously a fairy. But what about Sophie? She’s convinced she is definitely a monster because of the “monster mark” on her face. At least that’s what she calls it. The doctors call it a blood tumour. Sophie tries to hide it but it covers almost half her face. And if she’s a monster on the outside, then she must be a monster on the inside, too.
Being the new kid at school is hard. Being called a monster is even harder. Sophie knows that it’s only a matter of time before the other kids, the doctors, and even her mum figure it out. And then her mum will probably leave – just like her dad did.
Because who would want to live with a real monster?