CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 38. . . .June 9, 2017
For the first time since grade one, Laura Ledwick is looking forward to the first day at a new school away from the bullies she had, and where she hopes to find some new friends. No one at her new school knows she nearly flattened a boy in grade one during a game of duck-duck-goose, but being a bit overweight makes her an easy target. She does pretty well on her first day, making two friends and encountering only one bully. With the first day of school out of the way, Laura can turn her attention to her biggest concern at home: the rattling door in her closet that she thinks may have a giant rat behind it. What she finds is much stranger and intriguing: an elevator to an underground world protected by a select few Monster Crusher and Swords, people assigned to protect a specific Monster Crusher across the globe, and Laura is their newest recruit.
Laura and almost all the current Monster Crushers and guardians agree that there must be a mistake. After Eldon, in charge of getting Laura into warrior shape, accepts that Laura is indeed the newest member, her training begins. She almost enjoys memorizing different monsters and their traits, but the physical training in front of the others is almost too much for her. The others stop doubting her when she becomes the first Monster Crusher to not only successfully defeat a test troll, but to cut its head completely off. The celebrating ends quickly when she’s assigned her Sword to protect her. Above ground Allison Black is Laura’s bully; below ground she’s responsible for protecting her. Neither girl can believe their luck, but they agree to work together to keep the underground world safe from monsters.
Laura wishes she could talk to her friends and family about the elevator in her closet and where it takes her every night, but telling others could put the people underground in danger. Laura’s little brother Tom, whom she calls ‘Bat Boy’ because, even though he’s blind, he can always sense when something’s wrong, has questions about the rattling in the closet, but he hasn’t figured out, and doesn’t sense, that his sister is one of a small group of people chosen to protect an underground world. He also keeps asking Laura if she can see the flashes of light he’s been seeing since moving to their new house. Very few people can see these lights which mark tunnel entrances to the underground world, and, when Tom goes missing, Laura’s positive he’s been taking by trolls. Laura solidifies her title of Monster Crusher when, by using her newly developed strength as well as her brain, she defeats the leader of the trolls, rescues her brother and forces the troll army to retreat. When it’s revealed that Uncle Laine, the person who had encouraged Laura’s father to move into their new home, hadn’t expected Laura to be the one chosen to become a Monster Crusher, Laura’s success is that much more satisfying. Laura proves that brains are as least as important as brawn, if not more so.
Laura Ledwick suffers from insecurities and longs for friends as she starts the school year at a new school. Seeing her make friends with misfits, standing up to and making enemies with the school mean girl, and falling in love with a boy who’s as geeky as she is all on her first day of school will have readers wondering what’s around the corner. From the moment Laura faces her fear of what might be behind the rattling door in her closet, discovering and taking an elevator to what appears to be nowhere, readers won’t be able to put the book down. When Laura, a chubby 11-year-old girl, finds out she’s been chosen to be a Monster Crusher, she’s initially overwhelmed, but she finds herself coming back for more punishing training each time the door in her closet calls her. Finally, she impresses even her above-ground nemesis/monster-crusher guardian Allison.
Tom, Laura’s little brother who is visually impaired, reminds Laura and readers that a positive attitude can go a long way. Laura keeps him and the way he stays cheerful rather than feeling sorry for himself in mind when tackling obstacles that she not sure she can conquer. The mood is also lightened through Laura’s crush on Liam, a nerd she beats in a geography quiz. She knows geography is his best subject and, for a moment, considers letting him win so his ego isn’t hurt and she doesn’t look ‘too smart’. She chooses to show how smart she is and beats Liam, winning his admiration.
The concerns of those living in the underground world are as easy to find in real life: they have resources and a way of living they want to protect from the trolls who are much more powerful and believe they should be allowed to take those resources for free. Looking at how the trolls feel they deserve the underground resources works well as a way to get students thinking critically about natural resources and who has a right to them.
Monster Crusher is an exhilarating read with loads of ethical and feminist dilemmas tucked into Laura’s adventure from ‘nerdy new girl’ to ‘proudly nerdy monster-crusher supreme’.
A MEd (Literacy) and MLIS graduate, Crystal Sutherland is the librarian at the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women and lives in Halifax, NS.
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