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Firechick's Book Reviews: At Night, I Become a Monster



I give this book about a boy who becomes a monster at night...a 38/100.

Kids, there's nothing funny about bullying. People often get picked on or bullied for a variety of reasons, but nothing ever excuses or justifies bullying. During my early school years, I got picked on because I was the weird autistic kid who thought cartoons were real and was admittedly rather annoying and didn't know when to shut up about stuff. But everyone's situations are unique, so when writing about it, there's really no one way to depict it. Some bullies are sympathetic, some are just assholes, and some are only doing it under peer pressure. The bottom line is, when trying to write about bullying in fiction, it's hard to really do it right. I myself learned this the hard way, and so have others I know of. Those who follow my reviews know I watched an OVA called Ijime which was...really bad, not just in its animation and writing, but how stupidly over-the-top and unbelievable its depiction of bullying is, even by cartoon standards. I honestly wouldn't recommend anyone watch it unless they want to see how NOT to write about bullying. Unfortunately, this is a problem that often plagues works that attempt to address bullying but often go about it in ways that don't seem very believable or authentic. Such is the case for Yoru Sumino's novel, At Night I Become a Monster. And I'm not gonna lie, IMHO, of all the novels of hers that I've read, this one is definitely her worst one. Yes, even worse than Pancreas.

The story focuses on a boy, Adachi--we never learn his first name--who one night, finds himself turning into a black gooey monster. He has no idea how this happened or why, but he decides to take advantage of his new transformation by sneaking into his school at night. He encounters one of his classmates, a girl named Satsuki Yano, hanging out in school at night, and the two find themselves spending time together. Yano is frequently bullied by everyone in Adachi's class because of some stupid things she did to some of the other students, and Adachi, knowing about it, doesn't do anything because not only does he not want to be subjected to it himself, but takes his class's side, feeling that Yano brought everything on herself. But as they begin to spend more time together, Adachi begins to question whether this is really the right course of action.

I've already mentioned a few times that Sumino's prose has never really been that engaging or interesting to read to me, namely because a lot of it is first person point-of-view and the fact that she seems to think having her characters constantly inner monologue about their unrealistically profound thoughts and streams of consciousness will make them interesting. Newsflash: It doesn't. In fact, it especially doesn't work here because Sumino doesn't seem to care about writing her characters in any way that'll make the audience care about them in any way. Adachi, or Acchi as he's always referred to, is the main character, the one we're supposed to root for, but he's got his head so far up his ass throughout 90% of the book that just reading his thoughts made me want to throw the book against the wall. He constantly whines and prattles on and on about his thoughts about everything and nothing, and doesn't even try to put himself in Yano's shoes in regards to the bullying she endures. I hear his monster form is supposed to be a metaphor for his complacency and his eventual coming to terms with it, but I don't know if the metaphor really works that well here. He rarely, if ever, tries to do anything genuinely helpful, and any effort he does make to try to help Yano is underscored by the fact that he goes back on it not a chapter later. I know the point of the book is for him to realize his actions and complacency do more harm than good, but it doesn't work here because, in the end, he only makes the very barest effort to do right by Yano, and the book just ends without any proper resolution.

Furthermore, we never know what Yano's deal is. Is she neuroatypical? Does she have a disability? Her strange actions and speech impediment make her a target for her class's bullying, but the book never fills the audience in on just what her deal is. We never even learn anything about her other than she likes Ghibli movies, occasionally twists conversations around, acts out on impulse, and that she's weird. Some of her more morally questionable actions help her stay away from just being a classic victim character whose sole purpose is to garner sympathy from the audience, but Sumino doesn't really make much of an effort to flesh her out or give her any development other than her experiences at school. We don't meet her family nor know if she does anything outside of school, like hobbies or other interests.

The rest of the characters--the ones that are named at least--are just bland, uninteresting, rage-inducing, milque toast ciphers who are given no purpose except to make Yano's life as miserable as possible all because they feel they have to self-righteously give her eternal punishment for something that isn't even any of their business to begin with, and are wholly convinced they're in the right no matter what. They're just dumb caricatures with no substance or depth whatsoever, and Sumino should really put in some effort to give them some degree of humanity. Oh, and they never receive any form of punishment for all of their reprehensible actions. Also, why haven't the adults done anything about this? Why haven't Yano's parents complained to the school about the bullying? Again, the book never addresses this, making the whole thing even more over-the-top and needlessly melodramatic. Seriously, when fan fiction of all things (Certain ones, at least) manages to not only tackle the subject of bullying in a much better, more nuanced and authentic way, but puts in the effort to flesh out all of its characters, bullies included, in a way that makes the audience actually care about them, then you have no excuse for screwing up this badly.

Which also leads me to the story in general. A lot of what Adachi does during the night doesn't really have much effect on everything else going on in his life during the day, so his being a monster becomes less and less relevant as the story goes on. You could almost say his turning into a literal monster is little more than a convenient plot device used to get him to talk with Yano outside regular school hours, which just seems lazy to me. Seriously, this book could have been so much better if it took the characters out of school for a moment and actually made an effort to get into the characters' heads and actually see why they do what they do. So all in all, this book is just a needlessly dark, mean-spirited, tasteless after school special trying and failing to address bullying, and even without that, the story is as barebones as one can get. None of the characters are interesting or three-dimensional in any way, and there are FAR better media out there that actually manage to tackle the issue of bullying much better, or if they don't do it as well, they're guaranteed to be a hell of a lot better than this slog!

Overall, don't bother with this one. At Night I Become a Monster is absolutely not worth it at all.
Tags: become, book, light, monster, night, novel, review
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