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Monsters We Have Made

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While clearly inspired by the real Slender Man stabbing, Monsters We Have Made is not a sensationalistic, salacious recounting of a violent crime committed in the name of an urban legend. It is, instead, a thoughtful, observant, and heartbreaking examination of motherhood, sacrifice, the bonds of family, and the power of myth.

Ten years ago, Sylvia Gray's preteen daughter, Faye, attacked her babysitter to impress the Kingman, a monster she and her best friend discovered in the dark corners of the internet. After spending the rest of her childhood in a juvenile detention facility, Faye is now 21 and estranged from her family. Meanwhile, Sylvia's marriage and self-worth collapsed long ago in the wake of Faye's crime, leaving her alone, bereft, and questioning every parenting decision she ever made. When Faye goes missing, leaving her toddler in Sylvia's care, Sylvia enlists her ex-husband and estranged sister to find her before it's too late. Because Sylvia has been watching the news, and she's seen the stories heralding the Kingman's return...

In stunningly gorgeous, lyrical prose, Lindsay Starck weaves a layered story about blame and guilt, regret, choices, and the complexities of parenthood. There's lots of thoughtful discussion surrounding the power of stories, the internet's ability to dilute or supersede the truth, and how much responsibility a parent owns for the actions of their child. Simmering in the background is a missing person mystery and an ominous mythical monster with a well-constructed origin story that blurs the line between fact and fiction. It's a quietly suspenseful book and a rich, literary character study that raises complex questions with no easy answers.

Monsters We Have Made is a well-constructed and thought-provoking dissection of the real people, and their real lives, that exist beyond the highlights of a sensational crime -- and about the myriad shades of gray that can color what seems on the surface to be a black and white issue. I picked it up for the Slender Man vibes -- but I stayed for the poignant, textured exploration of the vast human psyche.

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Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC of Monsters We Have Made.

When Sylvia Gray finds herself the caretaker of her granddaughter unexpectedly, she and her ex-boyfriend journey to find their daughter, Faye, who 15 years ago, attacked her babysitter on behalf of a monster she discovered online.

Now, it appears the Kingman has returned, a resurgence of attacks made on his behalf and Sylvia fears Faye knows more about the monster than she has revealed.

Based on the premise, I was hoping for a suspenseful narrative, but the narrative proved to be more thoughtful than I expected, which is a good thing.

As Sylvia retraces her daughter's steps with the help of her estranged sister and ex-husband, she ponders the extent to which a parent carries the responsibility of their child's actions.

Can we ever be absolved? How much of what our child does reflect on the parents? Is it possible to love too much?

The premise is just as much about love and fear as it is about how fiction can quickly blur into reality if enough people believe in it; just look at the proliferation of fake news and conspiracy theories circulating online right now.

Where do parents draw the line with their children? Do we ever stop wondering how they will turn out?

How much influence do we have in who and what they will become?

As Sylvia follows in her daughter's footsteps, Faye reaches her own conclusions as to what propelled her to commit that brutal attack over a decade ago, and how to come to terms with what she did.

The writing is good, and it flows, though it took me a few pages to adapt to the author's writing style.

Most of the narrative comes from Sylvia's POV, and we're in her head a lot so there's a lot of monologuing about her past and present.

She's a relatable character, though there was something about her character that came off as submissive I didn't like.

I liked how the author brings the whole family together as a unit to search for Faye because at times like these, only family understands what you're going through and family is who you need.

This was a thoughtful read about family relationships, the bond between parent and child, and the fictions we create with one another (not just online) to survive.

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I want to thank Vintage Anchor books for sending me an advance copy to review! I think this book had a really strong start and I loved the parallels to The Slenderman. The Kingman was an eerie and spooky element to the book. The book bounces back and fourth with A LOT of the characters and while it was nice to get some insights into some of the characters it seemed to lessen the stakes for me. The aspect of the book that was my favorite was the familial bond. This book has an underlying theme of the strength parents have in regard to unconditional love to their children. Even if your kid becomes a monster there is still that bond that ties you to them. The ending wraps up nicely and I think this book would have made for a great book club discussion.

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This is certainly a weird book, though the fact that it isn't listed under the 'horror' category here should provide a preview that this is much more literary fiction than anything else, despite the synopsis. I appreciated the writing and character building, and this book provides a deep, heart-wrenching meditation on parenthood (particularly motherhood) and control.

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Thank you to netgalley & the publisher for my arc copy of this book!

This book follows Sylvia as she is searching for her missing daughter, Faye. I feel like we have all read missing person stories at this point, but what made this one stand out was the very beautiful and lyrical writing style. The author captures sacrifice and parenthood in such a beautiful and poignant way. I think that the story itself was not revolutionary, but I loved the writing.

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Back when I reviewed Jaq Evans’ What Grows in the Dark, I mentioned that the thrill of discovery is one of the things that I love most about not just reviewing, but also reading in general. So far, I have started 2024 off with a bang in that regard, with Evans’ wonderful debut and new-to-me author Lindsay Starck’s Monsters We Have Made. It’s no secret to people who have followed my reviews here and on Ink Heist - maybe because I mention it every chance I get - but I love horror novels that blend elements of other genres. One of my favorite combinations without a doubt is horror and crime, and Monsters We Have Made fits snuggly into that subgenre. 




Monsters We Have Made opens with a transcript from an emergency dispatcher thirteen years ago detailing a horrific attack perpetrated by Sylvia Gray’s 10-year-old daughter Faye and her best friend Anna. They repeatedly stabbed their babysitter and left her for dead in the woods in an attempt to appease the Kingsman, a mythical, deadly figure who has been taking the Internet by storm. The case naturally catches the media’s attention and the ensuing whirlwind of trials, documentaries and constant coverage rips the family apart. Sylvia and her husband - who seemed like they could conquer anything together - have split up and Faye spends a majority of her life in a juvenile detention facility. Though she’s eventually released, the relationship between her and her parents is forever altered, and they hardly hear from her. However, one day Sylvia receives a knock on her door from the police. Her three-year-old  granddaughter Amelia was found alone in Faye’s car and Faye was nowhere to be found. This causes Sylvia to once again venture into the world of the Kingsman with the help of her estranged husband Jack and sister Rosie, in an attempt to save her daughter and prevent history from repeating itself. 

One thing that stood out to me about Monsters We Have Made is that while it depicts the attack on the babysitter, it’s only briefly, to set the stage for the rest of the novel. This approach immediately made me think of Kealan Patrick Burke’s modern classic Kin, where instead of focusing on the violence, the emphasis is instead placed on the fallout of the brutality and the way it leaves its mark on the characters. One of the main strengths of this novel is by far the characterization. The narrative is mainly told through the point of Sylvia and her inner monologues, though some sections are also told from the point of view of Faye, Jack and Elizabeth the Good. Through the use of these inner monologues, Starck breathes life into the characters and readers get to know them in an intimate way. A great example is even though only a handful of chapters are told from the perspective of Jack or Faye, the level of detail given to Sylvia’s memories and recollections of moments with them from over the years makes it so reader’s feel like they know them equally as well. I love character-driven novels, and in my opinion, the characterization work in this novel is among the best I’ve ever read.

This novel explores many themes, and while generational trauma is definitely one that will stick out almost immediately, equally as powerful is the exploration of love, forgiveness and parenthood.  After the attack on the babysitter and all of the events that transpired afterward, Sylvia wrestles with her identity as a parent and the immense love she feels for Faye. I feel that’s another thing that helps elevate Monsters We Have Made into truly special territory. Not only does the novel explore the fallout of Faye’s attack, it’s filtered through the lense of Sylvia’s experience instead of Faye’s. There is a line in the novel where Sylvia reflects on everything that happened that really drives home a part of what makes this approach so powerful. “We spend years of our lives imagining what our children will become: journalists or ballet dancers, park rangers or nurses or engineers or public defenders. I never dreamed that Faye would become a pariah, a case study, a criminal”. As a parent myself, that sentence burrowed its way straight into my heart and I think it’s a lot of parents' greatest fear. We love our kids so much and do everything in our power to protect them and make their lives as happy and full of love as possible, but what happens if that’s not enough? What if something happens that derails that path, something that is completely outside of our control? Experiencing that through Sylvia was equal parts thought-provoking and terrifying. 

The Kingsman looms like a specter throughout the entirety of Monsters We Have Made and while there are parallels between The Kingsman and Slenderman, The Kingsman is his own entity entirely. The less I tell you about the actual appearance of The Kingsman the better. Part of the fun of this journey is discovering bits and pieces of his history throughout the novel through present-day interviews with those associated with the case and psychology experts as well as testimonies of his presence throughout recorded history. Starck handles the question that is sure to be on every reader’s mind  - Is The Kingsman real or just a figment of our collective consciousness - masterfully and never once drops the reader’s interest, making for an addictive, propulsive read. 

Pretty much from the very beginning to the stunning conclusion, I was totally enthralled by Monsters We Have Made. Starck’s lush prose is often hauntingly beautiful, but also deftly switches to skin-crawling unease easily and I found it near impossible to put down for long. The year may have just started, but I feel confident in saying Monsters We Have Made is an early contender for one of the year’s best horror novels and I have no doubts it will easily rank high on my list come the end of the year. If you enjoy character-driven novels that dives deep into the psychological side of horror, this is an absolute must-read.

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There are some novels, so rich in delectable prose, that I greedily gobble up.

Monsters We Have Made was one of those books.

Its lyrical rhythm was not the only stunning aspect. The way this story both pierced and filled my heart was impeccable. I was absolutely intoxicated, and the consequential hangover still lingers.

The author tackled the common trope of a missing person, but she did not lead readers down a well worn path. While there was a mystery quietly unraveling in the background, the story focused more on the roles parents (especially mothers) play in the choices their children make. It was also richly steeped in folklore with the invention of a new monster that played off the urban legend and real life horrific crime surrounding the Slenderman. In Monsters We Have Made, we become loosely familiar with the Kingman, a creepy internet fixture who influenced two young girls to brutally attack their babysitter. Years later, one of the perpetrators goes missing, and an unsettling, meaningful tale encompassing a mother’s love and guilt unfolds.

I loved all the woven in stories that blurred the line between fact and fiction. They played a vital role in what I was left to consider with this novel, haunting me with questions that still occupy my mind.

While I was in awe of everything Starck managed to do with this book, I was especially impressed with the way she built the missing daughter’s characterization. For so long, I saw Faye through the perspective of others, and my entire concept of her character was molded through this. I was surprised by how easily the author challenged my perception when I finally met Faye herself.

The story embraced and illustrated human psychology so well, and I was mesmerized by all of it. Starck expertly revealed how erroneous assumptions can form based on opinions and gossip, and how perceptions of a person can differ dramatically, depending on who you ask. Is there truly a correct answer regarding who someone is?

It also spoke to me on a more personal level as a mother. While I may not be able to relate to what Sylvia endured with Faye, the concept of dissecting choices and mistakes as a parent was certainly familiar. Starck deftly demonstrated how the influence upon our children is far more intricate than the pointing finger of blame comprehends, and that we cannot guarantee our own successes by avoiding the mistakes we believe others have made.

I am immensely grateful to Vintage Books and NetGalley for my copy. All opinions are my own.

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I would like to thank NetGalley and Vintage for providing me with an advance e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review. Look for it in your local and online bookstores and libraries on March 26, 2024.

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really fun, literary, and very obviously based on that awful Slenderman incident. thanks so much for the arc.

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This book is a real page turner for anyone into mystery and thrillers. I love how the author builds the story around Elizabeth's search for her missing daughter and facing and working together with her estranged husband and sister to help find her daughter and shows what exactly makes a monster.

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This was an interesting look not only at Slendeman-style internet-based urban legends but family, what happens to child perpetrators of crimes, and the fall out for their families. Honestly, I wasn't expecting such a nuance look at motherhood and marriage! I did feel like the storyline with the professor was the weak link. His involvement was a little too obvious and then we never really got a satisfying reason why he did it beyond him not being a great guy. Which I guess is enough but not super exciting in fiction.

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“Monsters We Have Made" is a scary and sad book about families, parenting, and the human mind. I could relate to Sylvia's search for her missing daughter Faye because I'm a mom too. The book made me think about how stories can affect our lives and how easy it is to get confused about what's real and what's not.

I was surprised by how much technology can change our thoughts and beliefs. The writing is vivid and keeps you on the edge of your seat. It's a mix of thriller and deeper thinking that makes it hard to put down.

After finishing the book, I was left with many questions and thoughts about my own life. That's what makes it so good - it stays with you and makes you think. If you want a book that will keep you guessing and make you think deeply, read "Monsters We Have Made".

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Monsters we have made poses the question: Are monsters in our lives real, or are WE the monsters??
I thought this book was extremely well written. It dealt with a fairly recent tragedy with class and did a good enough job using the details without being blatantly obvious.... like you remember when something like that happened, but it wasn't exactly the same.
The characters were very interesting, and had moderate depth. They were fleshed out enough that I liked the majority of them. I could easily picture the situations the main characters were in. As far as I'm concerned, if reading a book makes you forget you are reading, it's a good one - and Lindsay Starck nailed it!

The book was really well written, and I enjoyed the twist it provided. Am looking forward to reading more from this author!

Thanks to Netgalley for this ARC.

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This was a really well done novel about parenthood, I really felt for Sylvia and even Faye. I appreciated that they used a real life event and that it uses it in the story respectfully. I was invested in their story and how everything worked with that terrifying feel of mental illness. Lindsay Starck writes a great story and I can’t wait for more from them.

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Immersive and expertly crafted. A recommended purchase for collections where genrebent litfic is popular.

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