“Monsterland” by Michael Okon is an interesting story about a high school senior named Wyatt Baldwin. Wyatt, his brother and his friends all win tickets to the elusive Monsterland theme park after Wyatt generously helps the creator under the assumption that he is a man in need. This is a park that hosts real vampires, zombies and werewolves as its main attractions, while claiming that guests are safe and that the staffers are kind to those they imprison.
A parallel story follows Carter White, Wyatt’s new stepfather, a police officer who distrusts and dislikes Monsterland and its creator right off the bat. As the creator, Dr. Konrad claims Monsterland will save the economy, and in turn, save the world. People either readily trust Dr. Vincent Konrad, or like Carter White, see the dangers of this “simple” solution.
Monsterland is definitely a different take on the supernatural and the plot of theme park gone wrong. The zombie virus has broken out and is plaguing the world; vampires apparently have always been a part of the world, but due to changes in society, they are starving and dying out; and werewolves live in secret in the Everglades of Florida. While the book does not explain how these creatures exist, they do exist, and they have been forced or tricked into living in Monsterland.
The novel’s prevailing question is, “What makes a person human?” or “What makes something deserving of compassion?” Words like “containment camps” and “holding cells” are used to describe the monsters’ living situation. Many characters are disgusted and ashamed of the monsters’ living conditions, but they struggle to tear themselves away from the theme park’s show. The discourse about what is a human and what is a monster is central to the book.
The two warring opinions of Monsterland are represented multiple times within the novel, whether the conflict is a conversation between Wyatt and Carter, an explicitly placed interview between Dr. Konrad and an interviewer, or in an argument among friends. This question is the most important one, but the answer is never clear.
Other topics broached within the novel include mega corporations (Monsterland is set up as a stark contrast to Disneyland), the dangers of a complacent society in time of turmoil, and the easy out offered by simple and uncompassionate solutions. Sometimes the novel’s plot takes on too much, but it doesn’t back down from the challenge. Hopefully all will be addressed in the forthcoming sequel.
Wyatt and his friends are most central to the plot, and the narrative switches points of view between them. They watch and participate in the theme park as it falls apart on opening day while Carter works security. Wyatt investigates why and how the park could fail, as well as the implications for the world at large, easily laying groundwork for the future sequel.
However, twists and turns keep readers engaged. The mystery of what truly happened to Wyatt’s real dad, what the vampires are planning, and why the last name Baldwin is so important enthrall the audience. Monsterland truly soars in this department, while some issues are more foreshadowed than others and some aren’t foreshadowed at all. Monsterland does not fail in shocking the reader with truths about the world
While the subplots seem inconsequential to the dangers happening at Monsterland, it’s hard to imagine the story without Carter and Wyatt becoming closer as family, or two of Wyatt’s friends getting together as the park comes crashing down on them. Next to uncovering the truth of Monsterland and its creator Dr. Vincent Konrad, the relationships between the characters were the most engaging part of the novel. However, there is a lot that still needs to be addressed.