In Monk’s debut young-adult novel, a boy on the brink of a life-changing decision finds his world suddenly, unexpectedly changed.
Marcel Dassaud, a teenager living in early-20th-century France, is getting ready to head out to Villeneuve, the country estate where his father once worked, where he’s just received an apprenticeship offer. At the same time, he has a letter offering a scholarship at a technical college in Paris. He must make a decision: to follow comfortably in his late father’s footsteps or to set out on his own in an unfamiliar city. His decision is further complicated by his feelings for Henriette, his friend Julia’s cousin, who lives at Villeneuve. Confused by what to do, he poses his question at the base of an over 1,000-year-old oak at Villeneuve said to have magical powers for those seeking guidance. As he debates the question, he shrinks down to barely a few centimeters tall and finds himself in a strange new world of insects and towering blades of grass, surrounded by danger. According to a message from the tree, he must cross the meadow to obtain the bees' royal jelly within three days or be transformed forever into a bug. During his quest, he meets Brimstone, an inchworm with a speech impediment, a dazed bee named Bea who’s lost her sense of direction and a gruff rhinoceros beetle. The intrepid gang races against time, avoiding dangers including lawn mowers, snakes and humans. Powered by an adventurous plot filled with humor, Monk’s novel combines a fable-like tale of talking insects with an adventure quest and a coming-of-age story. Marcel’s human-to-insect metamorphosis intriguingly parallels his transformation from a boy to a young man who must make life-changing decisions and follow his own path. Although the relatively exotic setting and some of the vocabulary may be intimidating to young readers, the quest narrative and strong characters will be likely to keep them turning pages.
An engaging, clever YA adventure about a boy’s journey into young adulthood.