"Kids can be so cruel" just about sums up "Monoceros," an imaginative, quirky and emotionally devastating novel set in a Catholic Calgarian high school. The book opens with the voice of the Dead Boy, so bullied by his classmates and ignored by his teachers that he hangs himself by the end of the first chapter. A cast of supremely real students, parents and staff narrate the remainder of Mayr's chapters: a nerdy unicorn-obsessed virgin who served the Dead Boy iced caps, the Dead Boy's secret lover, a newly divorced and frazzled English teacher, the closeted school principal, an incompetent guidance counsellor and, to top it all off, a drag queen.
The novel's plot progresses steadily even though most of the action is emotional. Readers witness the characters grieve or refuse to grieve, care or refuse to care, and examine their lives from glass houses. Mayr deftly offers compelling detail both in convincing teen-speak and in the words of burnt-out teachers trying to make it through each day.
Unfortunately, the low point of the book comes at the final chapter, where unicorns appear on the scene in a sudden switch to magical realism; the abrupt shift throws the rest of the novel into upheaval. But, at the same time, it may be a fitting way to bring us to the end of a story that will inevitably endure as the fallout from the dead boy's choice reverberates in the psyches of those he left behind.
on May 18, 2011
Monoceros is an emotionally evocative book about a school community reacting to the suicide of a bullied gay teenager. It's a realistic look at the high school environment and the relationships within it. The book switches point of view between the dead boy, the uptight principal, the guidance counselor who couldn't talk about being gay, the dead boy's mother, and Faraday, a teenage girl who wonders if she could have saved the dead boy if she had just tried a little harder to be his friend. There is an element of the fantastic, which gives the book a feeling of hope and whimsy.
I laughed and cried, sometimes at the same time. I think this is a must read for anyone who has, or has been, a teenager.