M is for Monster by Talia Dutton

Cover image for M is for Monster by Talia Dutton

Review: M is for Monster
by Talia Dutton. Surely Books/Abrams ComicArts, June 2022. 224 p. ill. ISBN 978-1419762208 (h/c), $24.99.

Reviewed July 2023 by Door Williams, Reference Librarian, Freeman Library/Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, kelly.williams@vmfa.museum

M is for Monster by Talia Dutton uses the trappings of mad science and reanimation to tell the story of M, a person who is surrounded by expectations of who she should be and is seeking time and space to figure it out on her own. M used to be Maura Ai, the tomboyish, game-for-anything younger sister of scientist Frances Ai, but as she adjusts to being alive again she finds herself disconnected from that identity. Anyone who has ever struggled with loved ones who can’t seem to let go of an older version of themselves will see that struggle reflected in M.

Dutton’s choice to set this story in a fictional 1920s-ish world, where queerness is as commonplace as tea and laboratory science should be as-gothic-as-possible, is delightful and works wonderfully. The inclusion of the ghost of Maura as M’s co-conspirator helps the reader really feel the tension between M’s past and current selves. The juxtaposition of the monster movie atmosphere of the Ai home with the delicate femininity of their neighbors’, further echoes M’s inner struggle.

The book is well-paced, neither rushing forward nor allowing M to linger in her discontent. There are several beautiful splash pages and one two-page spread paneled outward from a ghostly Maura in the center, handily used to depict a mad science montage. Dutton’s deep, inky blacks along with colorist Avery Bacon’s muted teals suit the alt-gothic atmosphere very well, and the expressiveness of the characters’ faces–in particular the puckish Maura–bring the story to life (so to speak).

M is for Monster is appropriate for young adult and adult audiences and would be a great addition to public libraries and academic libraries with strong graphic novel collections.

Link to Accessible PDF

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