. . . Reviews

“Divert the Twilight lover in your life, meanwhile, with Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters (Canongate, £12.99), quirky fantastical fables which put a new spin on teenage alienation.”
The Guardian

“Kelly Link keeps readers wonderfully off-kilter in her collection Pretty Monsters: Stories (Viking, 2008; Gr 9 Up). Deft use of irony, dry humor, and a detached tone render eerie happenings and macabre creatures believably entertaining. . . . Link’s quirky portrayal of the grotesque mingles realistic teen characters with wizards, werewolves, and a purse containing a faery village, making for frighteningly delightful tales.”
School Library Journal

“These stories are fantastic, in both the literal and colloquial sense of the term, and though written for young adults, are every bit as evocative for adult readers.”
Boston Globe

“All of Link’s stories are wonderfully odd and original. Some are also quite scary – and this, from her collection Stranger Things Happen, is very scary indeed. It’s the story of 10-year-old twin girls in a haunted American mansion, being instructed by an enigmatic babysitter just what it means to be “dead”.”
—Sarah Waters on “The Specialist’s Hat” in The Guardian

“You’ll find a little bit of everything in this book, from a mother-daughter team of ghost collectors to a cult-like organization waiting for aliens to return to Earth. Kelly Link gives us great stories in this collection — a wonderful (and thought-provoking) read.”
—Samuel Morris Barker, Summer’s Stories, Kendallville, IN
Winter ’08 /’09 Children’s Indie Next List

Amazon: Best Teen Books of ’08.

“Link is one of today’s most original and talented short story writers. Pretty Monsters, her first collection for young adults, combines both old and new material—all of which is magical and entrancing.”
—Rachael, Powells.com Staff Pick

“The nine wonderful stories in Pretty Monsters . . . feature young-adult staples like personal loss or confronting peers. They also feature magic, monsters, aliens and ghosts. Their spooky blend of real life, wry humor and the macabre will make readers—both young and adult—giggle and shiver.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer

“In the opening story of Pretty Monsters: Stories, a high school boy quixotically stashes a sheaf of poems into his dead girlfriend’s grave-bound coffin. When he goes back months later to retrieve them, a la Dante Rossetti, the dead girl is ready for a break from the grave. After shedding her feckless ex, she wanders out of the story’s frame and into a new life as a calligrapher or a circus performer. In Link’s world, employment opportunities for the dead are limitless.
This is cult author Kelly Link’s third short story collection, and her first for the young adult market. Link is known for wildly imaginative stories rooted in very human concerns — if you’re a teen werewolf, it just means your curfew is extra strict, and ancient magical objects may turn out to be an unlikely source of high school heartbreak.
Though her books’ population of monsters, aliens, and the walking dead keep them firmly in the fantasy niche, Link’s interpretations of the genre seem limitless; standouts here are the stellar (and terrifying) Gothic tale “The Specialist’s Hat,” mini-bildungsroman “Magic for Beginners,” and the layered, dread-heavy title tale. Whether or not you’re a young adult, the work is no less eerie or sensuous for its audience. The stories play out in an altered American landscape, or in wholly imaginary spaces littered with the detritus of dreams: skinned black dogs and forgotten deities, the gleaming carapace of a dragon.
Essential to the book’s fairytale content is Link’s understanding of the power of objects, the proprietary folk tale feel of something in hand — a carved comb, a clay cup. There’s alchemy in it, and power. Perhaps the thing that most clearly marks this as a young adult book is the agency it gives to teens and children. Sometimes the business of magic is best left up to the young.”
Venus

“This is a perfect match of author and illustrator and a great introduction to an author who will be loved by teen readers.”
Bookslut

“If her past books make up a haunted house, Pretty Monsters is more of a fun house. Of course, that means it’s still a lot of fun.”
Time Out Chicago

“While Link is not an author who shies away from referencing pop- and commercial-culture, nor is she some glib chronicler of the right-now. Her work — realm-straddling blends of fantasy, science fiction, fairy tale, and capital-L literature — possesses a mythic quality.”
Boston Phoenix

“She’s a true original.”
Oklahoma Gazette

“For young readers, this collection makes a great introduction to Link’s work and the short story form.”
Hipster Book Club

“The collection is perfect for summer reading — curled up in the hammock or on the beach, alone or with your favorite smart teenager.”
Fantasy

Kirkus (Starred):
Although some of Link’s work appears in other YA and adult short-story anthologies, this is her first collection wholly aimed at a young-adult audience. Weirdly wonderful and a touch macabre, the nine short stories take readers into worlds with elements of reality but also supply a fantastic twist. The opening story, “The Wrong Grave,” plays into the current trend of books featuring the dead and the undead; in it, a boy whose girlfriend dies wants to dig her up to retrieve the poems he put in her coffin. “Magic for Beginners” centers on a boy whose closest friendships form around a TV show with a loyal following but no set broadcast time or channel. Erudite, economical word choices give readers a strong sense of setting without drowning them in adjectives. The humor is dry and the characters are easy to relate to, even in alien (literally and figuratively) settings. Fantasy readers used to long, single tomes may hesitate at the short-story format, but once they see these, they will want more. (Fantasy/short stories. 14 & up)

Publishers Weekly (Starred):
Readers as yet unfamiliar with Link (Magic for Beginners) will be excited to discover her singular voice in this collection of nine short stories, her first book for young adults. The first entry, “The Wrong Grave,” immediately demonstrates her rare talents: a deadpan narration that conceals the author’s metafictional sleight-of-hand (“Miles had always been impulsive. I think you should know that right up front”); subjects that range from absurd to mundane, all observed with equidistant irony. Miles, hoping to recover the poems he’s buried with his dead girlfriend, digs up what appears to be the wrong corpse (“It’s a mistake anyone could make,” interjects the narrator), who regains life and visits her mother, a lapsed Buddhist (“Mrs. Baldwin had taken her Buddhism very seriously, once, before substitute teaching had knocked it out of her’). Other stories have more overtly magical or intertextual themes; in each, Link’s peppering of her prose with random associations dislocates readers from the ordinary. With a quirky, fairytale style evocative of Neil Gaiman, the author mingles the grotesque and the ethereal to make magic on the page. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)

Booklist (Starred):
Link, who has two breathlessly received books of strange, surrealistic tales for adults under her belt, makes the leap into the YA fold with this collection of short stories (most previously published in separate anthologies) that tug at the seams of reality, sometimes gently, sometimes violently. In nearly every one of these startlingly, sometimes confoundingly original stories, Link defies expectations with such terrific turnarounds that you are left precipitously wondering not only “What’s going to happen now?” but also “Wait, what just happened?” Her conception of fantasy is so unique that when she uses words like ghost or magic, they mean something very different than they do anywhere else. Perhaps most surprisingly—and memorably— is Link’s dedicated deadpan delivery that drives home how funny she can be, no matter how dark the material gets. After gobbling up a group of campers, a monster with a self-proclaimed sense of humor bargains with the terrified lone survivor, “How about if I only eat you if you say the number that I’m thinking of? I promise I won’t cheat. I probably won’t cheat.” Shaun Tan contributes a handful of small illustrations that are, of course, just plain delightful.— Ian Chipman

School Library Journal:
In her first collection of stories for young adults, Link upends traditional horror, science fiction, and fantasy motifs, creating original, quirky, and distinctly beautiful literary landscapes. Honed, brilliant language renders blood, werewolves, ghosts, magic, and monsters sublime–at times even funny. Readers will relish uncertainty in these savory, strange stories and never feel quite sure of their footing. They proceed giddily, jumping from one uncanny premise, phrase, or image to the next, eventually stumbling upon a revelation that hits them like the snap of a rubber band. Clever resolutions and tricky plots place teens on delightfully circuitous reading paths. Unexpected endings force them to double back and reconsider each story from the beginning. In this second read, young adults might notice Link’s seamless incorporation of their own experiences. Awkward adolescence, uncomfortable first love, frustrating parents, and complicated friendships surface quietly amid wonderfully knotty, twisted plots and incandescent imagery. This compilation of intricate, transfixing selections succeeds in making the weird wonderful and the grotesque absolutely gorgeous.–Shelley Huntington, New York Public Library

School Library Journal (audio edition, starred)
Gr 8 Up—Kelly Link’s offbeat, quirky collection (Viking, 2008) of nine short stories, ranging from fantasy to horror to sci-fi, features ordinary teens who find themselves in bizarre and unusual situations. Unexpected plot twists, deadpan humor, and magic are abundant. Link, in her first collection for young adults, dances around the edge of reality in each story and leaves the endings wide open. It’s almost as if the stories end a beat or two before they should, and many listeners will be left wondering, how did that happen? Listening a second time may lead to buried clues that help explain each tale’s conclusion. For example, in “The Wrong Grave,” Miles tries to retrieve the only copy of poems he wrote for his now dead girlfriend. Could he really have made a mistake and unearthed the wrong casket? In “Magic for Beginners,” Jeremy and his friends are avid fans of the TV series The Library which has no set schedule and runs on different networks. Is the show or Jeremy’s life reality? These strange, twisted plots also touch on teen issues of friendship, first love, adolescence, and more. Each unique story has a different narrator who expertly conveys its humor, suspense, and terror. These seasoned readers, including Christina Moore, Andy Paris, and Alyssa Bresnahan, among others, employ skilled pacing and a straightforward tone which adds to the surreal nature of the stories. Fans of macabre tales and works by Neil Gaiman will find much to enjoy.—Wendy Woodfill, Hennepin County Library, Minnetonka, MN

Green Man Review:
Link’s spare but evocative prose complements the intensely-felt inner landscapes of her smart but still emotionally awkward young protagonists. Part of the punch of these stories is that they serve as a reminder to the reader that, when we are young, the most mundane aspects of the world can seem mysterious and even menacing, while the truly weird stuff often seems perfectly mundane. This sense of topsy-turvyness arises not only from the point of view of Link’s teenaged characters, but from the style of her prose, which provides a new slant on the often didactically descriptive prose styles of traditional science fiction and fantasy. Yet such a prose style also recalls other writers who were published in mainstream publications during the 1960s and 1970s, and I often found myself thinking of the short stories of Joan Aiken, who possessed a similar spare but startling prose style. . . Link offers stories in a range of genres, from the straightforward fantasy of “The Faerie Handbag” to the science fiction story “The Surfer” and even some dark horror tales, as in the homage to scary summer camp stories, “Monster.”

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