Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Patterns of Paper Monsters

The Patterns of Paper Monsters kept me up all night, my heart pounding towards the end to see if the nightmare scenario proposed by one of the characters comes to fruition.

It is the story of 16 year-old Jacob, a rebel with cause. He is locked up in a juvenile detention facility for, what the reader comes to find out during flashbacks, is the drug-fueled armed robbery of a convenience store and assault of its lone employee. Jacob’s peers, counselor, teachers, and guards find him reticent and moody. But while his exterior is flinty, Jacob’s reflections on those around him at the detention center, as well as his mother and stepfather, The Refrigerator Man, are incredibly insightful. Like so many teens, Jacob feels like no one could possibly understand or appreciate what he’s already been through and how hopeless he feels.

Little-by-little Jacob lets his guard down as Andrea, a new girl at the detention center, catches his eye and becomes both his friend and the closest thing to a girlfriend he can have while incarcerated. Jacob even begins to open up to his adult mentor, acknowledging sincere efforts to befriend him. In a strange way, the detention facility is safer and saner than home itself. His vulnerability and growing contentment are threatened when David, an extremely disturbing and violent teen, is sent to the detention center and becomes determined to enlist Jacob in his twisted plans. Because of David’s diabolical actions, Jacob literally must choose between good and evil. The reader, knowing all that Jacob has learned about hate and violence his entire life, but hopeful that his intelligence and core goodness will win the day, will be shocked to find which path he chooses. There are no happy endings in The Patterns of Paper Monsters.

Emma Rathbone has created a truly fascinating teen character in Jacob. He is the son of a sad, neglectful, alcoholic mother who allows both herself and Jacob to be terrorized by Refrigerator Man. Jacob’s anger and sadness boil just below the surface, fueled by his extreme intelligence. Once his anger and neglect lead him to drugs, violence, and eventually the detention facility, it’s not hard to see why teachers and counselors take time to help him – there’s something special about the way Jacob sees the world.

Rathbone also does an excellent job creating a sense of place – the sterility of both the detention facility and the sprawling, generic suburbs that surround it. The scene reflects the characters so well, demonstrating that there is more going on behind the bland facades seen in so much of chain store America.

I'm surprised this wasn't published as YA, as I think teens will identify with Jacob’s sullen, sharp intelligence, as well as his exasperation with what he sees as the hypocrisy and stupidity that surrounds him. Adults failed him for much of his life, but the ones who took the time and made the effort end up creating the biggest impact - a sentiment I personally loved.

A Hachette representative at the 2010 Annual American Library Association Conference was nice enough to give me an Advanced Readers Copy. The book will be available on August 9, 2010

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