What an odd, sweet, surprisingly deep story! I picked up The Monster Who Wasn't on a random library browse, because that's a great title, with an appealing cover. The cover is not only a lovely piece of art, but it really captures the feel of the book: the boy-shaped imp with his gargoyle friends, perched on a church spire gazing down at the human world he wishes he could belong to. Wistful, whimsical and weird.
Shelley populates her world with a kaleidoscope of monsters and fairies (and an angel): everything in Irish mythology, plus some extra ogres and trolls, plus a few, like the gargoyles, she just made up. Her description of the monsters' underground world is vivid and disgusting: the monsters are definitely the bad guys in this one! The gargoyles rescue the unnamed imp who doesn't look like any other type of monster—because they feel sorry for him, and because his human shape means he can steal chocolate for them!
The imp—who eventually gets named Sam, so I'll call him that—is delightful as he gains vocabulary and learns about the world. Then his questions start to get more existential: why do I exist? what am I supposed to be? where do I belong? The answers to those questions turn out to be complicated. Shelley has taken elements of the changeling story but given them her own unique spin, and Sam's encounter with the human family who were partially responsible for his creation (this isn't a spoiler: we know that at the beginning) gives the plot some intriguing and poignant twists.
I mentioned that the monsters are the bad guys, and there is some real peril with quite scary creatures. Sam's courage and loyalty are tested, and I was on the edge of my seat rooting for him all the way!
I loved the gargoyles, I loved the Kavanagh family; there's a lot of really great humour to balance out the scary bits. This book warmed the cockles of my heart! (I think that's an Irish saying, isn't it?)Always in the Middle to highlight Marvelous Middle-Grade books on Monday. Lots more great recommendations at Greg's blog.