When I was a kid there was a place in my bedroom dedicated to monsters. Admittedly there wasn’t much to it—a small stack of Famous Monsters of Filmland mags, a Frankenstein movie poster, a Godzilla model kit and a Creeple Peeple Thingmaker—but it certainly stoked my imagination in ways superheroes, Hot Wheels and basketball trading cards never did.
My meager collection of monster gewgaws also made me a little bit sad. I would daydream endlessly about living in a world filled with reanimated mummies, human flies, howling wolf men, walking skeletons and giant tarantulas. I desperately wanted monsters to be real.
In this way, I was a lot like the 11-year-old protagonist in Monster Camp, the latest novel by Sarah Henning. Sylvie Shaw pined for a world with monsters, for fangs and claws and spectral apparitions and for magic spells and beasts in the woods and full-moon shapeshifting.
The middle schooler loved monsters so much she dressed willfully like a vampire every single day. She looked a bit like Vampirina, but her classmates mockingly called her Draculette. Even after school, she continued her undead roleplaying.
Naturally her dad was a little worried about her. “You need to get used to life as a boring old human,” he said. “The sooner you come to terms with the fact that you’re not a vampire, no matter how much you pretend to be, the better your actual life will get.”
Without her father’s consent, Sylvie enrolled in a nearby summer camp for monsters. There were only two rules at Monster Camp: be kind and be yourself. Sylvie would be free to be as monstrous as she wanted to be as long as she wasn’t monstrous to anyone else.
But Monster Camp presented a problem for “Sylvie the Vampire.” Like all preteens, she wrestled with identity issues. In her mind, she was a human and a monster. How could she be herself when she didn’t even know what that meant?
Everyone at camp was friendly—even the ones with fangs. To Sylvie’s delight she was surrounded by a variety of spooky creatures including werewolves, witches and ghosts. Also in this Brothers Grimm utopia was a kelpie, a goblin, an invisible boy and a half-vampire-half-human girl. The Loch Ness monster was also at Monster Camp and living happily in a nearby river. Nessie relocated to the United States because tourists in Scotland were giving her panic attacks.
Spending a week at Monster Camp brought out the real Sylvie—in the worst possible way. Despite her sympathies for monsters, she couldn’t escape her humanness. She was willing to lie and cheat to get the things she wanted: friends, popularity and privilege.
It was easy to forgive Sylvie because she wasn’t a mean girl in any way. She was actually pretty likable. She was simply young, insecure and trapped in an awkward situation. For her, Monster Camp was the first tentative step along a path of self-awareness. Monsters were people too she discovered in the most literal way possible.
[Monster Camp / By Sarah Henning / First Printing: May 2023 / ISBN: 9781665930055]