Beautiful. I had no concrete expectations for this going in, but My Favorite Thing is Monsters is hands down the most unique graphic novel I’ve ever read. The story, the art style, and the character development where all absolutely brilliant. I was incredibly moved by it.
“Never let anyone’s darkness provoke you into your own midnight.”
This is a coming of age story unlike any other, told and drawn from the perspective of Karen Reyes, a ten-year-old girl growing up in the 60s. Karen is completely obsessed with monsters, and consumes every magazine and television show and movie about them she can find. This graphic novel is set up as her journal, in which she records her observations of others and her inner thoughts through both words and drawings. The story is also her hunt to solve a mystery, which added another layer of fun to the reading experience.
“I guess that’s the difference… a good monster sometimes gives somebody a fright because they’re weird-looking and fangy… a fact that is beyond their control…
But bad monsters are all about CONTROL… They want the whole world to be scared so that BAD MONSTERS can call the shots.”
There was actually a ton of artistic commentary here, both in Karen’s interpretations of famous artwork and through how she represented others. Almost every character is conveyed as being related to some kind of monster, and is drawn accordingly. This is most evident in Karen’s portrayal of herself in her own eyes.
“Like I said, basements usually smell like surrealism. But kitchens and gardens almost always smell like impressionism.
Because our kitchen is part of a basement apartment, it smells like the early impressionism of Vincent Van Gogh – all big strokes of umber and ochre – a peppery greasy I-love-you smell.”
We also see a lot of timely topics through the eyes of this child, from the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy, to the Flower Power and anti-Vietnam War movements, to the racism and homophobia that pervaded every aspect of life at the time. We also see the aftermath of World War II through the eyes of a concentration camp victim, which was both fascinating and almost too painful to read. Karen also conveys the importance of family and self-expression and standing up for the things you believe in. But she also showed how difficult all of those things can be, not only for a ten-year-old girl, but for the adult surrounding her.
“Sometimes a thing happens that’s so bad that it feels like things should be made to look on the outside, the way they feel on the inside.”
Something else I appreciated about this particular graphic novel was how substantial it is. At right around 400 pages, it’s one of the longest books I’ve read in the genre. The story was meaty, and was well balanced by the stunningly unique artwork. Karen Reyes felt incredibly real to me, and I was thankful to be able to spend so much time with her. Although I borrowed a digital copy of this from my library, I immediately tracked down a physical copy to have on my shelf. I’m eagerly awaiting its sequel (and conclusion), due to be published right around my birthday next year. I will definitely be preordering it for myself as a gift. I was deeply moved by Volume 1, and I can’t wait to see how the story wraps up in Volume 2.