Friday, August 18, 2023

Book Review: Little Monsters by Adrienne Brodeur

Pages: 320
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: June 27, 2023
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Source: Personal Copy
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Ken and Abby Gardner lost their mother when they were small and they have been haunted by her absence ever since. Their father, Adam, a brilliant oceanographer, raised them mostly on his own in his remote home on Cape Cod, where the attachment between Ken and Abby deepened into something complicated—and as adults their relationship is strained. Now, years later, the siblings’ lives are still deeply entwined. Ken is a successful businessman with political ambitions and a picture-perfect family and Abby is a talented visual artist who depends on her brother’s goodwill, in part because he owns the studio where she lives and works. As the novel opens, Adam is approaching his seventieth birthday, staring down his mortality and fading relevance. He has always managed his bipolar disorder with medication, but he’s determined to make one last scientific breakthrough and so he has secretly stopped taking his pills, which he knows will infuriate his children. Meanwhile, Abby and Ken are both harboring secrets of their own, and there is a new person on the periphery of the family—Steph, who doesn’t make her connection known. As Adam grows more attuned to the frequencies of the deep sea and less so to the people around him, Ken and Abby each plan the elaborate gifts they will present to their father on his birthday, jostling for primacy in this small family unit. Set in the fraught summer of 2016, and drawing on the biblical tale of Cain and Abel, Little Monsters is an absorbing, sharply observed family story by a writer who knows Cape Cod inside and out—its Edenic lushness and its snakes."


Adam Gardner is a famous scientist and oceanographer who has dedicated his life to studying whales. He has lived on Cape Cod for years and raised his two children, Ken and Abby, on his own after his wife's untimely death. Now that he is approaching 70, he is starting to feel the pressure to come up with one more great idea in his field of study. So, he impulsively stops taking his bipolar medicine with the hopes that the great idea will come to him more freely this way. Meanwhile, his son Ken, a businessman, is hoping to enter the world of politics. He and his wife decide to throw Adam a 70th birthday party this summer on Cape Cod. Then there's Abby, an artist, and the polar opposite of Ken. She has never married or had children, but is hiding some major secrets of her own this summer. Then comes a stranger to their circle who is going to shake things up for the Gardners this summer. Little Monsters is a twisty beach read filled to the brim with family drama and secrets. Fans of The Paper Palace will appreciate this novel the most.

I found Adam fascinating from the start of
Little Monsters. While he is tragically flawed and suffers from a mental illness, I found him to be very entertaining, especially with his love for whales and the ocean. Due to his mental illness, he struggled to raise Ken and Abby on his own at times and they were forced to fend for themselves more often than not. The resentment and trauma surrounding this definitely comes to a head this summer. Combine that with Adam not taking his medication and a big party for his 70th birthday, well, you've got yourself a disaster.

Abigail and Ken were also very interesting characters in Little Monsters. I really enjoyed how Brodeur developed them. At times their relationship was a bit disturbing, but I was hooked. I felt for Abby as she is more creative and often gets the short end of the stick in the family, but not this summer. Things will change for Abby in more ways than one, especially with the arrival of a stranger, Steph, into their inner circle. Steph has questions of her own and when she gets the answers, it shakes up the Gardner family to its core.

The setting of Cape Cod was fantastic. It made this family drama the perfect kind to curl up with at the beach. While
Little Monsters was a bit darker than I'd like for a beach read, I felt that it was balanced well, especially with the beach setting and Adam's focus on the ocean and whales. Little Monsters is being described as a modern take on the biblical tale of Cain and Abel; I would have to agree! 

If you love your beach reads with some MAJOR family drama and you enjoyed
The Paper Palace, definitely check out Little Monsters. Brodeur's writing was really wonderful and I will definitely read more of her novels in the future. In the comments below, let me know if you read Little Monsters or if it's on your TBR list. 

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