A book about children that is not for children

The Writing for a Child Audience module on my MA said that the age of the protagonist(s) in a book determined the age of the intended audience. And if the main character of a book was a child, chances are that the book is written for children. So a story featuring a child aged 12-13 would probably attract an audience aged 10-11.

Not with Emerald Fennell’s book Monsters.


I came to this thinking that it was probably intended for children aged 11 or 12+ at least and, having read it, I can vouch that it’s best left for teenagers up because anyone younger than at least 13 will find it disturbing.

Actually, I am in my 40s and found it disturbing!

But this is why I liked it. Emerald Fennell has written a story that is a bizarre cross in style and setting between the Famous Five (a seaside holiday mystery) and something out of Stephen King. It’s certainly a psychological thriller because the plot concerning the serial killer on the loose in the genteel town of Fowey is secondary to what the heck is going on in the mind of the main character – whose name we never know – and her new and only friend, Miles.

It’s a clever conceit to have a nameless narrator because Fowey, as literature fans will know, was Daphne du Maurier’s home and her most famous heroine was the narrator of the equally thrilling (but less disturbing) novel Rebecca. The girl in Fennell’s story is not meek and mild, however (though she IS an orphan). She strikes up friendships with adults (who try to push her away) and is attracted to Miles despite plentiful evidence of his cruel and (arguably) psychopathic nature. She has to fight for his attention though as his mother is unhealthily obsessed with him, fussing and spoiling him to the point of them taking baths together despite the fact that he is nearly a teenager.

The narrator is so desperate for Miles’s affection and attention that she sometimes lets his make-believe go too far, with frightening consequences. Subsequently there is an air of unease throughout the novel, with the reader constantly wondering who is doing what… and what they will do next. This uncertainty continues at the end of the story which led me to wonder (and hope!) that there will be a sequel.

I loved the narrator’s voice. It was honest and amusing and occasionally a little foul-mouthed which created a comic effect against the Famous Five atmosphere running behind the story. She and Miles explore rock pools, swim in the sea, go crabbing and go for long walks, as the Five would do, but they also nick things from the local shops, read a Who’s Who book on famous murderers and daydream about getting rid of people who they hate.

This is a fantastic book. I loved the setting, the characterisations, the mystery and the voice. I could see what a monster the narrator could be but still felt sorry for her at times as she displayed a vulnerability through her words that she hid from the world. I dread to think though what a sequel might have in store for her, though I can’t wait to read it if it appears.

Top marks, but don’t read it to anyone under 13! (at least till you’ve read it yourself…)



  1. Good point, Judi, and you use the viewpoint so well in Little Mouse. I’d be interested to read of other examples – all the ones I can think of are child voices that are aimed at teens and young adults rather than adults (eg The Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime).


    • The most famous child narrator of a book for adults is probably Scout in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. And there are Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. All of these are maybe aimed at a youthful audience. Certainly the first has often been a set book for GCSEs, although I never heard that she wrote it for children or YA (indeed, I doubt the YA term was coined when she wrote it). I read all three as an adult. I was sure I would quickly find lots of examples, but am struggling a bit. There’s also ‘the Go-Between’. The boy is 13.


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