Monday, July 22, 2024

This Summer, Hunt A Misfortune of Lake Monsters with Nicole M. Wolverton

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A Misfortune of Lake Monsters by Nicole M. Wolverton is this summer’s young adult cryptid mystery. Old Lucy is the lake monster of Devil’s Elbow, Pennsylvania. Except, she isn’t. Old Lucy is really a succession of Zieglers in a latex suit. Currently, that role falls to Lemon Ziegler, one of the novel’s protagonists. But she’s not the only one in the water. How do you impersonate a monster when a real one is in the same lake? Find out when tickets to the ferry go on sale July 2nd from CamCat Books

Lemon wants to be a normal high school senior planning for college. Her grandparents have other plans for her. The Zieglers have a family tradition of creating sightings of Old Lucy in order to keep their town running on tourist dollars. With no other suitable candidates, the burden falls on this seventeen-year-old’s shoulders. The other protagonist of this novel is fellow high school senior Troy Ramirez. His plans for the future are ones he will not make, because he isn’t sure how his hidden love for Lemon factors in. So when attacks are reported of “Old Lucy” being more violent than usual, he devotes his energies to protecting her. 

If this sounds like the plot of a teen TV drama, you’re not too far off–this is one campy book. Many of the characters lean into an extreme stereotype, and the plot goes entirely off the rails. That said, this book is marketed as young adult. I would put this maybe more in the teen fiction bracket for these reasons, but age ranges are a gray area. I’m sure there are people my age who would have more fun with this than I did. It is definitely my recommendation to steer this toward a younger audience, though. 

A Misfortune of Lake Monsters Cover
A Misfortune of Lake Monsters Cover

Now, about that plot going off the rails. I won’t give specific details, but I do want to talk about genre. You know how the first season of Stranger Things had each group of characters in different genres? The adults were in a government conspiracy, the teens were in a slasher, and the kids were in a sci-fi adventure. This book is kind of like that except Lemon is in all of the groups. And some of her friends or family are in multiple groups. It’s less a clear delineation than a venn diagram with Lemon at the center.

And this book is also a romance novel. Lemon and Troy are the two point of view characters we have. From his first chapter, it is obvious how Troy feels about Lemon. He’s extremely protective (or “cave man” as he chides himself for being) and teased often by their friendship’s third wheel, Darrin. Lemon, on the other hand, seems to be, well, emotionally obtuse. I really want to dig into this aspect of her character, because it is perhaps my biggest gripe with the book as a whole.

From the beginning, the reader knows Lemon’s parents died. She lives with her grandparents as a result, and it is their death that moves her up in line to take over for Old Lucy. One key missing detail, though: it’s never clear how old exactly Lemon was when they passed. But the way she handles her grief over them, as an orphan myself, felt disingenuous. We see more emotion from her grieving a dog than to her parents. And yes, the dog was sudden and immediate (spoiler: a dog does in fact die. That’s one spoiler I know many readers want ahead of time), but whenever her parents come up the grief is directed toward Old Lucy. It never felt like she missed them. Maybe a personal problem, but it rubbed me the wrong way.

The crux of the matter is that A Misfortune of Lake Monsters is a plot-centric novel, not a character-driven one. At least, not to my “only reads adult” eyes. And there’s nothing wrong with that! It’s wild, it’s fun, it has some unexpected gore, even. It’s a beach read, or a summer vacation read, but for when you want to be a little dark about it. Just maybe don’t bring it to a lake, or on a cryptid hunting trip. You may just change your mind. 

Images courtesy of publisher.

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