Monday, May 20, 2019

A Monster Like Me by Wendy S. Swore

Synopsis (via Goodreads): 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 neighborhood. Clearly, the bullies are trolls and goblins. Her nice neighbor 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 tumor. 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 mom figure it out. And then her mom will probably leave — just like her dad did.

Because who would want to live with a real monster?

Inspired by real events in the author’s life, A Monster Like Me teaches the importance of believing in oneself, accepting change, and the power of friendship.
"Oftentimes we fickle humans have fleeting wishes for a life not our own, but such superficial desires lead to discontent and unhappiness. Better to take heed of all the good in your life, and take nothing for granted. Look for the good and you will find it, no magic or wish required."

I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts and opinions are my own. Any quotes I use are from an unpublished copy and may not reflect the finished product.

A Monster Like Me really captured what it's like to have a child's imagination. At one point, Sophie and Autumn were at the beach, and they imagined stone giants where others simply saw rocks. When they were underneath a willow tree, they believed they were battling a ferocious monster with webs and arms. It felt like an authentic portrayal of what children see when they look at the world. It's like they have a special lens when they're younger, and it was nice to be reminded of how magical even the most mundane items can be. Sophie has a talisman that could've easily been called junk, but it meant the world to her. It may have looked like mishmash to an adult, but every item she selected for it was special and unique.

Sophie's story also broke my heart. I can understand children teasing her about the mark on her face, but it really shocked me when adults were sometimes worse than their children. Something happens at the beginning of the book that felt totally unrealistic, and I made a note to say something about it in my review, but another blogger mentioned it was based on a real experience the author had. It still baffles me, because in my mind, adults should be responsible and kind, not verbally abusive and cruel. However, I know that there are some really rotten people in the world, so it shouldn't have been so surprising.

Despite my overall enjoyment of the book, I do have some quibbles regarding the story. One, I have no idea how old Sophie is supposed to be in this book. She can read, her mother also leaves her alone at the Farmer's Market (Sophie seems to know her way around), and she uses words my five-year-old doesn't know yet. Sophie still needs adult supervision when her mother goes on a date, but her mom left her home alone when she was pretending to be too sick to go to school. There was a lot of conflicting information that made it hard for me to place her age, and it's not specified anywhere within the story.

My second complaint would be the vocabulary. I believe this book was written for a younger audience, yet some of the words from Sophie's Big Book of Monsters were hard for me to pronounce. I had to Google a few of them to make sure I was reading them correctly (example: cireincròin), and there were a lot of different monsters and mythological creatures mentioned throughout the book. One of them was a constant in her life, and I still have no idea how she pronounced what she thought he was.

Speaking of the Big Book of Monsters, I loved the little excerpts at the beginning of each chapter. Sometimes Sophie's story would obviously tie into the reference, and other times it was a little harder to make the connection. After a few chapters, the excerpts started to take on a very motivational vibe. "Remember, dear reader, the truth these creatures will never understand: emotion is a powerful force, and while it is easy to use it to destroy, it is far nobler to build. Things once said, cannot be unsaid. Whether emotion-fueled rampages strike a city of millions or a single person’s heart, painful scars are left behind. And some scars are invisible to all except those who carry them."

As a whole, I really enjoyed this book. I think there were a lot of wonderful aspects, and the author gives you a lot to reflect on even as an adult. I wish Sophie's interactions with a counselor had been expanded on, but I'm happy that it was even mentioned. It seems unlikely that the counselor would have bought a gift to bribe Sophie, and the fact that she won the game seemed purely coincidental, but it was easy to overlook. At least her mom knew that her daughter needed to talk with someone that would be able to better understand what Sophie was thinking and feeling.

A Monster Like Me also shows what it's like to be an imperfect parent. Sophie's mother makes mistakes, but it's obvious she loves her daughter. She wants Sophie to have an easy life, and she doesn't want other people to bully or ridicule her child. I think her mother's reactions to other people added to Sophie's discomfort and embarrassment. Honestly, I didn't like her mother most of the time, because she saw Sophie's mark as something to be fixed, instead of loving her daughter with no reservations. I think if she'd been unbothered by other people's perceptions of Sophie, her daughter would have been more accepting of herself.

I tried to read this one to my five-year-old, but I don't think he's quite there yet. Although, I do think this will be an excellent book for children that can understand (and possibly relate to) the various concepts mentioned throughout the book. ISwore has written an incredibly impactful story that shows what's it like to be different, and how to accept and love those differences.

23 comments:

  1. Oh yes you made me want to read it now!

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    1. It was a wonderful read! I hope you have a chance to read it soon. :)

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  2. I love the sounds of this one. I almost want to say where were books like this when I was younger, but then when I was younger I wanted to read from the adult section and was reading books by Anne Rice, Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Oh well, it's fun to be able to read whatever the heck you want huh?

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    1. Truth! I don't really remember reading children's books as a child, but I vividly remember getting the Harry Potter books in fourth grade, and then reading Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit in middle school. I read a lot of Koontz in high school! There was this really trippy one... I don't remember many of the details, but it had something to do with the main character's mind, and maybe an unborn twin that was absorbed. That was nearly two decades ago, haha.

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  3. Oh gosh I think this would break my heart as well but I love that it had good messages!

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    1. Her mother wasn't intentionally hurtful, but her words mattered more to Sophie. She didn't think her daughter could have a normal life while she had a mark across half of her face. They didn't go swimming, or try out for sports, because Sophie's mother was afraid of the teasing and bullying that would inevitably follow. She pushed her daughter to have it removed, even before really asking if it's what she wanted. Her mother would say things like, "You could be so beautiful..." and it made Sophie feel like there was something wrong with her that needed to be fixed.

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  4. I am amazed at how insightful MG novels seem to be. This seems to tackle some important themes. I swear adults are definitely worse than children when it comes to vapidness and judging others. Her mother sounds so frustrating! This definitely sounds like a heartbreaking story.
    Glad you enjoyed it!

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    1. I've read some really great MG books this year! I didn't really read them until my son was old enough to start enjoying chapter books before bed. I read to him until he falls asleep, and after Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl, Gregor the Overlander (and a few others), we started looking for new material! I'm really happy I stumbled across this one on NetGalley. :)

      You're right, some adults ARE worse, and the children have to get it from somewhere, right? Watching Sophie struggle with acceptance from others, and learning to love herself, was really heartbreaking.

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  5. I think that this book sounds so interesting and your review has me very curious. Thanks for sharing your great review!

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    1. I really enjoyed seeing the world from a child's perspective, because they see the world in a way we've forgotten about. Everything is slightly exaggerated, and I loved remembering what it was like to find magic in the little things.

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  6. Yes adults can be worse than the kids. You just know some of those mean kids have got to get it from their parents.

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    1. This is so true! Children learn their behaviors from their surroundings, which is why it's important to always set a good example. I've been trying to get my son to understand this, even though he's only five. His sisters are two, and they want to do everything he does, even if it's something he's not supposed to be doing. I'm constantly reminding him to set a good example, so they know to do the right thing, but again...he's five. ;)

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  7. Too bad the character and the vocabulary wasn't consistent but I'm glad you still found it overall enjoyable. I do like that the mother made mistakes but I don't like that she saw her daughter as needing to be fixed. Hm... curious and I love your review of this book. Brilly!

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    1. Her mother was tired of her daughter being teased and bullied, and I think she was afraid of what their actions would do to her child (both physically and mentally), and that impacted her perspective on the situation. She also tried to shield Sophie from the outside world, and kept her away from large groups of people.

      It was really heartbreaking, but I do wish her mother had been stronger for her daughter. She should have told Sophie that her mark didn't define her, and that she was loved regardless. I think her anxiety over how people would treat Sophie bled into their relationship, and it caused Sophie to feel even more embarrassed and unsure about herself.

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  8. This sounds like a good read - I've seen it around before. Thanks for sharing. And it's awful that sometimes adults are worse than kids, but it really does happen!

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. Do they not realize how damaging their comments can be to children? It is really so hard to be kind to others? Especially children! No one deserves to be mocked or bullied, but it's always worse when it happens to a child. They're so innocent, and it breaks my heart.

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  9. Mean people come in all ages, and I have seen and been subjected to some of it myself. I have this book on my TBR. The synopsis and the little girl thinking her father left her broke my heart. I am confident this one will deliver lots of feels.

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    1. Sophie doesn't mention her father very much. I'm not entirely sure when or how he left, just that he did and Sophie thinks it's her fault. I think it's been awhile, since her mother starts dating again pretty early on in the book. Sophie didn't realize it at first, but he understood her struggles more than anyone else.

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  10. I learned really young that it's not just kids who are mean. I had 3 operations on my face when I was a kid. The first one when I was 5 and it left a 3 inch scar on my left cheek. I've heard all kinds of things. My nickname in school was scarface for years and it was one of the parents of a kid in school that started it.

    That sounds like an interesting premise for a book.

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    1. I'm so sorry that happened to you, Mary. I'm always surprised by people's cruelty, but it starting to be something that I also anticipate. I've noticed it more now that my son is older. People don't like anything different or unfamiliar, and I'm worried what that will mean for my son when he starts school. He's so sweet, and always wants to make friends with everyone, but what happens when they don't want to be his friend? I know it's inevitable, but my heart is already breaking for him.

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  11. This sounds like a lovely book for middle grade children to learn about differences and acceptance and just learning lessons about being nice. Kindergarten children tend to be brutally honest rather than cruel, the cruelty usually comes from mimicking older children or even repeating what they've heard from an adult. I wonder how old Sophie is supposed to be. Going by your review, I would have guessed perhaps eight? Perhaps the author is remembering from various ages of her own experiences so it's a condensed narrative and seems a little disjointed.

    I think this could be such an important read for middle grade aged children to learn empathy and acceptance but might need a sweep over by another editor? Wonderful review Linds, it sounds like this was quite the emotional read darling.

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    1. Oh, I know all about younger children being more brutally honest that cruel, haha. I was mowing the yard in a sports bra last week, and my son walked up to me and commented on how squishy my tummy was. I was like, "Thanks, kid!" I know he didn't mean anything by it, and that it looks different from his own stomach, but that's what happens when you have children, especially twins that pop out 7 lbs each. ;)

      I was thinking eight or nine, maybe second or third grade, just based on some of her interactions with students and teachers. However, her mother left her alone at a farmer's market, and that feels like a young age to do that. I'm hoping the finished copy was a little more obvious about it. :)

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“Stuff and nonsense. Nonsense and stuff and much of a muchness and nonsense all over again. We are all mad here, don't you know?”
― Marissa Meyer, Heartless