Introspective Sofia, a recent cancer survivor midway through seventh grade, acquires both a prosthetic leg and an unlooked-for role: Guardian of monsters.
The monsters hail from various cultural imaginings: the Jewish Golem, a Japanese Kappa, the wolflike French Beast of Gevaudan, an American Indian Thunderbird, a British Afanc. The role of Guardian comes with a bestiary, passed down through centuries from Aristotle’s student Xeno to Sofia in Atlanta, Georgia, which evidently “the Native Americans believed…to be a hive of supernatural activity.” Chemo-bald, white Sofia also acquires an enemy: Alexander the Great’s obsessed, witchy mother, Olympias, plans to avenge Alexander and complete his conquest of the world. Sofia is protective toward the monsters but also toward her anxious single mother and her estranged best friend. Meanwhile, the school’s alpha girl and the new boy (witty and good-looking but a bit of an outcast) seem to angle for her friendship. Garrett’s prose, frequently poignant and sophisticated, is punctuated with wry humor. But though the monsters—including one wrought from Sofia’s insecurity—menace with tooth, claw, and stink, they seem little more than fleeting threats. Xeno, caught between life and death and devoted to Aristotle’s theory about the monsters’ roles in human experience, is more comical than awesome. Garrett leaves the door open to sequels with Olympias’ melodramatic parting line: “oh, what surprises await!” The monsters in Mirtalipova’s occasional illustrations tend toward cute rather than scary.
An uneven but entertaining approach to mixed mythologies. (Fantasy. 10-14)