I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by University of Iowa Press on October 1, 2014
Genres: Coming of Age, Contemporary, Short Story
In When Mystical Creatures Attack!, Ms. Freedman’s high school English class writes essays in which mystical creatures resolve the greatest sociopolitical problems of our time. Students include Janice Gibbs, “a feral child with excessive eyeliner and an anti-authoritarian complex that would be interesting were it not so ill-informed,” and Cody Splunk, an aspiring writer working on a time machine. Following a nervous breakdown, Ms. Freedman corresponds with Janice and Cody from an insane asylum run on the capitalist model of cognitive-behavioral therapy, where inmates practice water aerobics to rebuild their Psychiatric Credit Scores.Amazon •
The lives of Janice, Cody, and Ms. Freedman are revealed through in-class essays, letters, therapeutic journal exercises, an advice column, a reality show television transcript, a diary, and a Methodist women’s fundraising cookbook. (Recipes include “Dark Night of the Soul Food,” “Render Unto Caesar Salad,” and “Valley of the Shadow of Death by Chocolate Cake.”) In “Virtue of the Month,” the ghost of Ms. Freedman’s mother argues that suicide is not a choice. In “The Un-Game,” Janice’s chain-smoking nursing home charge composes a dirty limerick. In “The Hall of Old-Testament Miracles,” wax figures of Bible characters come to life, hungry for Cody’s flesh.
Set against a South Texas landscape where cicadas hum and the air smells of taco stands and jasmine flowers, these stories range from laugh-out-loud funny to achingly poignant. This surreal, exuberant collection mines the dark recesses of the soul while illuminating the human heart.
Mature-Content Rating: Language, Sexual Situations, Mention of Suicide, Drug Use, Alcohol Abuse, Depression, Mental Illness, Religious Debate, (View Spoiler »Miscarriage, Suicidal Attempt « Hide Spoiler) *Some triggers may be spoilers to the story so they are hidden. If you have triggers, please check before you read.*
“Plenty of teachers have thrown a terrarium out a window and shouted, ‘You’re driving me crazy!’ But you’re the first who actually followed through.”
First off I have to say that this book wasn’t at all what I first expected. I expected a witty commentary about how a school teacher in the midst of a midlife crisis is handling school systems, parents, and disrespectful students. What I got instead was a book full of life lessons learned through experience and through the eyes of others.
The three main characters are Laurel Freedman- the teacher- and two of her students, Janice and Cody. Laurel’s mother had mental problems of her own, and her father wasn’t exactly “Father of the Year” material, but she was a young teacher determined she would change the world through her students. BUT, she suffers from a mental disorder (bipolar?) which eventually leads her to a mental breakdown- which is really where the novel begins (our story here isn’t linear).
Janice was abandoned by her mother as a child, and left to live with her aunt when her father remarries. Her character is a hurting teenage girl with a problem “acting out” for attention.
Cody is the dreamer/geek of the group. His short stories are my favorite featured in the novel and will most likely get the most laughs.
There are times when the point of view switches to second person, which really just confuses the story and made me want to skim over those parts. The rest of the story is first person from one character to another through letters, e-mails, cookbook recipes, and short stories- which really worked. I don’t know why there were sudden switches to second person that just blew off the flow of the story.
Overall, I would recommend When Mystical Creatures Attack to anyone who enjoys novels with mixed media (email, letters, etc…) and that’s hits serious topics but still a bit on the silly side.