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My ten-year-old son loved this book, and immediately demanded the second and third in the series, which we read together. When I was sometimes too tired to finish a chapter (not the book's fault!), he'd grab it from my hands and read it himself! The first book is a strong start to the series, introducing a super fun cast of mutant monsters on the loose, as well as the totally engaging characters of Bex and her best friend Charlie. Their circle soon expands to include an old frenemy of Bex's, Willa, and a potential crush for Bex named Marcus. Kim Harrington not only gets the positive aspects of kid gaming culture right - writing empathetically about kids who feel successful in gaming and gain confidence in other domains in their lives - but she also nails the dynamics of complex middle school social dynamics, and how friendships can change with dizzying rapidity. The fun, whimsical book covers don't quite do these books justice; there are actually substantial issues in them to discuss and think about, interrupted by totally fun capers involving creatures on the loose in a town where the Veratrum Gaming Company has its headquarters, and a background mystery across all three books that comes to a satisfying resolution in book 3!
I wasn't at all optimistic about this book when I first checked it out. It looked and felt like a Pokemon Go! knock-off/tie-in, and books based on video games or Android game apps tend to be thin infomercials for dedicated fan-boys only. Well, excuuuuse me for being such a sour jerk. This book was clever, entertaining, suspenseful and loaded with surprisingly appealing and well-developed characters. Go figure.
The set up is fun. "Monsters Unleashed" is Pokemon Go!. You find monsters on your phone screen, throw battle nets at them, and capture them. You level up as your skill increases and you capture bigger and more ferocious monsters. Well, our heroine Bex may not excel at everything, but she sure excels at virtual monster hunting. Her guy pal Charlie is no slouch himself. When Bex and Charlie explore Grandpa's attic and turn on some weird machine it "releases" the ten most violent monsters that have been stored in Bex's Monster Lab, and they appear in real life. There's nothing for Bex and Charlie to do but hit the streets and track down and recapture the monsters; but this time it's for real. Only regular players of the game can see the monsters, so non-players just think Bex and Charlie are nuts, at least until the invisible-to-them monsters start hurting people.
The book starts slowly. It feels like this is just going to be a prose version of a level by level video game, and the only thing more boring than watching someone play a video game is to read about someone playing a video game. Well, after a one chapter set up, the book takes off in surprising directions. Bex has some drama - she was dumped by her best friend as too nerdy and is now the butt of the former BFF's mean girl snark. Charlie has an older brother whose "teasing" is awfully close to real bullying abuse. The two of them are contemplating starting middle school, and are sort of figuring out what their close friendship may develop into. These sub-plots are woven into the action and are handled with a light touch but penetrating insight. All three issues end up being resolved in satisfying and authentic, if slightly implausible, fashion. Already, that's more payoff than I ever expected in this sort of book.
But get this - these kids are smart, funny, perceptive and remarkably engaging. They aren't whiny or angsty. They feel realistic but are in touch with their heroes within. Minor characters also shine. A teacher who plays the game on the sly lends a hand. The old guy across the street is a secret player and deadpan funny. Scenes that are directed to the mean-BFF and abusive brother carry some weight and real insight. Again, who knew?
On top of that the monster encounters are brisk and brief, but surprisingly suspenseful. The final conflict with the top monster is nerve-wracking and rousing, with a cool surprise resolution. The author wisely dispatches the monsters with efficiency, which leaves more room for the two kids' relationship to grow and for the other parts of the story to develop. Heck, I enjoyed just reading the parts in which the kids ate cookies and tried to figure out what to do next.
The upshot is that this was satisfying, entertaining and rewarding. I don't usually care about sequels, (lots of other books out there waiting to be read), but I was actually sort of pleased to see this being set up for additional books in a series. A very nice find for early middle graders.
(Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book without a review requirement, or any influence regarding review content should I choose to post a review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)
Thank you to the @kidlitexchange network for a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
Summary: Bexley, or Bex as she is called, and her best friend Charlie are gamers. Specifically, they play a game called Monsters Unleashed. Similar to Pokemon Go, players walk neighborhoods and search for virtual monsters to catch. Players collect the monsters and are always on the hunt for rare ones. Deciding that the best chance to catch some of the rarest would be to find old places in their town of Wolcott, Massachusetts, Bex and Charlie ask Charlie’s Grandpa Tepper if they can take photos of an old map of his up in the attic. This map is from the 1800’s and will surely reveal some great spots to catch monsters.
The problem occurs when Charlie fiddles with an old machine he finds in the attic while Bex is taking pictures. It sparks and knocks out the wifi, and at first the friends don’t think anything of it beyond how much trouble they might be in. Then Bex checks her Monsters Unleashed app and realizes that all of the monsters that were in her lab are gone. When they walk home in the dark and have to battle a VampWolf for real, they realize what happened. The monsters from the Lab are now in the physical world rather than the virtual one.
Bex and Charlie have to learn how to catch real Uniguins, Oinkcats, Teddy Globs, and others before real people get hurt. Only players can see the monsters. Among those who assist are frenemy Willa, a public librarian (I love that part), and an elderly gentleman who lives down the street.
Review: Several of my students came to mind as I read this book. It is short, easy to understand, and the problems the kids have, aside from needing to catch monsters, are relatable. The predictability works in its favor as a hi-lo book for less advanced middle school readers, and elementary will eat it up. I like the characters, who learn and grow through their adventures.
Young gamers, science fiction fans or simple lovers of exciting adventure are sure to have their hearts beat faster as they dive into this fast paced adventure.
Bex and Charlie have been best friends forever, and both love to play Monsters Unleashed on 'their' cell phones. When their hunt for the ever better monster lands them in an attic, a strange machine causes Bex's game to go berserk. Every monster Bex ever caught has suddenly disappeared from her app and has landed in reality. Somehow, her and Charlie need to capture the dangerous creatures before the town is destroyed.
Not only is this a short read, which isn't going to scare even more reluctant readers away, but it completely hits modern day kids and their interests full swing. Taking off on a similar wave as Pokemon Go, this book brings to life exactly what kids always dream will happen--video game hits reality. The writing is crisp, natural and stays on what's important. The scenes flow from one event right into the next, never allowing time for a boring moment but still giving the characters enough depth to make them interesting and easy to relate to. These kids have to think on their feet, and win battles without any special talents or powers.
The imagination in this book is simply fun. The monsters can be quirky, creepy and full-out dangerous. The main characters have their hands full. The author creates a perfect setting for these two friends to work together, while still leaving room for each to individually gain a greater sense of self-confidence in the process. By making the two main characters male and female, the old-fashioned idea that computer games are mostly for guys is left behind (as it is in reality) and both girls and boys are sure to feel at home in these pages.
It was a sheer delight to follow the kids on their quest. There are tense fights, humorous moments and quirky scenes too. The logic behind the machine's odd capabilities was a little thin, but that doesn't ruin the pure excitement this book brings across.
In other words, this is a great read for kids ages 8 to 12, who love cellphones, apps, games and action. It's a wonderful start to a series, one I can't wait to see more of.
I received a complimentary copy and loved it so much that I wanted to leave my honest thoughts.
Reviewed in the United States on December 30, 2017
Kim Harrington’s new series combining video games, science fiction, and adventure is going to be a huge hit with middle grade readers! The first book is a quick, fun read which you cannot put down. Monsters Unleashed, I believe purposefully, is like Pokemon Go! in that the players walk around town looking for monsters to catch, but what would happen if one person’s caught monsters escaped?!?! That was happens with Bex and Charlie, and now it is up to them to figure out how to save their town. This is when it gets unique and crazy! How are they going to get all of the monsters? They are clever :)
I cannot wait to read the rest of the series! I cannot wait to see what Bex and Charlie do next!
This was a quick read about what happens when monsters get out of a virtual reality game and a couple of soon to be middle schoolers have to put them back in the game. I loved reading and watching the growth of Bex and Charlie as they fight the monsters in real time and save their town. I think this book will appeal to younger readers looking for a quick read who like games and monsters, and there are two more in the series featuring the return of Bex and Charlie.
It is very hard to get my son invested in a book, but since he's such a gamer, I'd hoped this would be one he'd read without constant protest. He loved it, told me how right I was and that it was a great pick. He's asking for the next one. I read it also to be able to talk to him about and get him further involved, and I thought it was a great take on a pokemon-go style game.