A dose of magic, a few quirky black-and-white drawings, a bit of New York history, a dash of folklore, a reminder of the value of friendship, and a brave example of standing up to bullies — these are some of the many delights to be found in this hilarious middle-grade novel by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel. A packed, gripping tale, Monster Club is great fun to read and imparts valuable messages along the way.
Eric, aptly nicknamed “Doodles” for his love of sketching, is concerned that his parents’ marriage is coming to an end. To make matters worse, his father’s amusement park on Coney Island is decaying and seems to be nearly unsalvageable. Eric is also dealing with a group of school bullies, and some of his close friends seem to be maturing and losing interest in the game of monsters that has nurtured him for so long. When he discovers that his sketches and the monster characters with whom he plays can be magically brought to life, he is both mystified and thrilled. Excitement and creativity have won out over the daily, boring activities to which Eric has grown accustomed. What’s more, the monsters provide distraction from his troubles at home and in school.
The backstory of the book follows Eric’s Jewish great-grandfather, who underwent a stressful and uncertain voyage to emigrate out of Europe into the United States — a past that provides inspiration and role modeling for Eric. Past and present meet when the monsters get out of control. Since the police SWAT teams and fire department cannot handle the situation, Eric and his cohort are going to need courage, ingenuity, and clever thinking to save one another as well as Coney Island. Will he and his friendly monsters win against the bullies and their destructive monsters? And will winning help save his father’s amusement park from the hands of the unscrupulous developers who want to destroy the Coney Island parks?
Aronofsky and Handel offer readers excitement, suspense, humor, and a touch of history in a story that is sure to be relished. Some young readers may even want to pull out their magical markers and try some sketching themselves.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.