The Monster Variations by Daniel Kraus

One boy is hit by a silver truck and loses his arm. A few weeks later, another boy is hit and killed by a truck. Is it the same one? Is someone targeting children in the community? Willie, James, and Reggie are determined to find out. However, this isn’t exactly a mystery (though the question of the truck and its driver is certainly mysterious). Instead, this is a book about monsters, both without and within. As we grow up, we begin to learn that there are different kinds of evil, and that the scariest things may be the ones that we are secretly capable of doing.

I do not read scary books. Let me repeat that. I do not read scary books. Or watch scary movies. Or go to haunted houses. One time, my family went to a haunted trail close to my house. I freaked out so much at the guy with the chainsaw that he turned the chainsaw off and told me it would be fine and showed me the way to leave. I don’t do scary. At all. So I was hesitant about this book. But I really wanted to read it, because I am always at a loss for what to recommend to my students who want scary books. I decided to give it a try. Despite the scary sounding premise, this is a book that is more about psychology and relationships than gore. There’s some gore, don’t get me wrong, especially when Willie loses his arm. But for the most part, the book explores the ways the boys interact and respond to each other in the midst of the town’s fear.

While this is not the normal kind of book that I read, I did enjoy it. My only complaint is that the text might be a little bit dense for some readers. I think students would enjoy the characters, especially the mysterious bully named Mel who is a painting prodigy. I also think teens will relate to the uncertainty and fear that these students feel. In fact, I have given it to two students already. Their faces perked up when I told them what it was about. I think that says it all. (And just in time for Halloween.)

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