Building A Monster

8 Year old Rex lives a life of being bullied at school as well as at home. To escape his reality he dreams up a land. He uses his artistic talent to build onto his dream world and soon learns that he is there to help. Rex must muster up bravery and courage that helps the land dwellers take back the land as well as survive in his reality. 

Genre

Children'/Teen

Critic Evaluation

Cover Design Score: 3

The cover is a bit all over the place.  The monster in the background is cool, with chains on his face, but it’s hard to read the words in white at the top.  The cartoonish little boy in the corner looks out of place.  The type is in different fonts and colors, which leads to a disorganized appearance.  Is it a horror novel, or something meant for children? 

Book Blurb Score: 7

The blurb states that Rex is eight, which leads me to believe that this book is meant for elementary students, as kids usually read “up.” It’s a fairly classic setup, bullied kid must overcome “monsters” at home and in an imaginary world.  Still, the syntax is confusing, “Rex must muster up bravery and courage that helps the land dwellers…”  It would be nice to get a hint as to what makes this imaginary world worth visiting.  Specificity as to the monsters would draw readers in more effectively.

Formatting Score: 6

There are a lot of pages to scroll through to get to the beginning of the story.  The font is so enormous that only a paragraph or two fits on a page, a handful of words per line, which make it awkward to read.  There are wide margins and the text feels squeezed into the middle.  Chapters and paragraphs are clearly marked.

Grammar & Spelling Score: 4

There are many grammatical errors throughout the text.  There are issues with tense consistency, awkward phrasing, wrong words, capitalization of proper nouns, run-on sentences, and punctuation.  All of these are especially problematic for children’s literature, as they raise the difficulty of the text.  The errors distract from plot and character development. 

“The door opening broke the darkness of the house in which all of the lights were out in.”

“He looked up at Darko with question on why Octavius has not shown himself to them after their calling.”

Plot & Structure Score: 6

The plot follows Rex through his everyday world and his imagined dream world.  Events and characters are mirrored in both worlds.  There is a clear conflict: Dad is evil, and there is a corresponding evil monster.

The jumps are confusing, especially in the first half of the book.  It’s hard to tell in the first few chapters if it’s really a different world or if it’s Rex’s dreams.  While ambiguity is fine, it did distract from the rest of the story.  The transitions are disjointed, and frequent.  Perhaps more time spent in the dream world in the beginning would make it clearer for the reader.

Character Development Score: 6

Rex is a bit of a stereotype, a kid who is misunderstood and does badly at school.  On page twelve, we are told that he is obsessive compulsive, but this characterization is not consistent throughout the novel.  We’re told it causes him trouble in school, but when we see him in school the problem is that he is bullied, his teacher isn’t super nice, and he struggles academically.   It’s hard to picture him, perhaps because the descriptions lack consistency. 

When Rex creates his art, he is easier to picture and the descriptions improve.  At the end of the book, inevitably, he displays “courage and bravery,” but his growth comes in long blocks of summarizing text rather than in action or dialogue.

The adults around Rex are either cruel or ineffective, until the very end.  None were particularly fleshed out, although the father is more vivid in his horror.  The monsters in dreamland are mere representations, Wizard of Oz style, and their evil is never really explained.  Though they are symbolic, their lack of motivation is confusing.

Originality Score: 6

Children’s literature is filled kids who have a tough home life before escaping to a magical world where they learn important lessons.  Even accepting that this fits into the fantasy genre, there is not too much to distinguish it from other, similar texts. 

In the first few chapters, Rex seems able to approach the dream world in several different ways.  He gets there by sleeping, daydreaming, and just sitting in his class.  This felt original, but by the end it was established that he only went when he was asleep.   The imagery around the hard water – both that he jumps into and that floods his bedroom – is very original and something that was easy to picture.  Monsters with chains on their faces were also creative.

Pacing Score: 5

Pace is inconsistent.  For long sections, especially in the beginning, it drags.  We get every detail of James making dinner. Every detail of Rex taking a shower.  Nothing happens in these scenes, and they aren’t relevant later.  Even when Rex puts on his clothes, it is in excruciating detail.

When he goes to the other world, the pace picks up, and things get more exciting.  Every time he came back to the real world, the pace slows again.  It’s possible this is a deliberate strategy, but I fear most readers (especially young ones) might give up before they got there.

Use of Language Score: 6

There are sections where the language is clear, thoughtful, and even beautiful.  For example, the scene where Rex goes swimming in a pond by his house, “Under the surface all life exploded in different directions. The bubbles from his breath leaking out danced like tiny jellyfish to the surface. His sight was hazy from the murky pond water.”  It’s easy to visualize, makes sense, and draws you into the scene.  Some description is original and startling in its precision, “his neck was wide like he was wearing a collar but he wasn’t.”

Unfortunately, the book was mostly filled with sentences that seemed to either be detailing basic plot points, like going to the bathroom, or describing things in flowery language that distracted from the scene: “The fluttering of a butterfly wings shimmer like baby wind chimes ringing a glory bell flew above him.”

Overall Readability Score: 4

I kept reading because I wanted to see what would happen in Rex’s dreamland, but I felt it wasn't fully fleshed out.  It’s never more than a confusing reflection of his real life, and therefore Rex’s ability to be brave in the end seems unearned.  The problem may lie in the fact that the dream world characters are just symbolic reflections of the real-world characters, rather than having their own merit.

It’s hard to tell what the intended audience of this book could be.  The language and plot is too convoluted for most middle grade (elementary school) readers.  Also, the abuse that Rex endures is fairly graphic, especially if we’re talking about young readers. The fact that Rex is eight limits its readership, as middle schoolers would be disinclined to pick it up.  Perhaps if it was rewritten with a teenaged Rex, it would be more marketable.

 

This book received a critic's score of 53 out of 100 possible points.

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