I’m gonna lay this out there right away. The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff is the best book I have read so far this year. I’ve read 23 book thus far, and I’m currently in love with David Gates, and I still say that this one is the best so far. You should read it right now. You won’t regret it.
Come on, the book starts out with this line: “The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass”. Aren’t you already intrigued? You should be, and the book only gets better from there.
The I returning to Templeton is Willie Upton, who is fleeing to her hometown after an affair with her archeology professor goes bad. Returning home is not easy for Willie who is a descendent of the town’s founder Marmaduke Temple, and once she gets there her mom, Vi, a former hippie who has been born again reveals that everything Willie knows about her biological father is not true. So Willie is given a small hint as to who her real father is and spends the summer digging through the town library and family archives to discover his identity.
While Willie searches for her father we are given glimpses into the history of Templeton and Willie’s ancestors through diaries, letters, and other ephemera, each written in the voice of the original writer (i.e. not Willie).
Groff deserves some mad props for writing such a bold, inventive, and entertaining novel. I have such a crush on this book that it’s hard to even talk about because all I want to do is pet the cover and sigh dreamily. What I really love is how she made the town of Templeton a character itself. The book is so good that I could spend all day singing its praises — great characters, wonderful voice, interesting plot, beautiful writing, enchanting setting, a touch of the fantastic, and pictures! Pictures!
Of course, the book is not perfect. There’s a totally superfluous sub-plot involving Willie’s best friend’s battle with lupus, and there’s a lot of background summary in the beginning. While it’s interesting to learn every character’s backstory, it gets a little boring and takes you away from the main story. It would have been better parsed out throughout the novel and not shoved in the first hundred pages.
The biggest flaw is probably that a wary and suspicious reader, like me, figures out very early who Willie’s father is. However, instead of being disappointed when the big secret is finally revealed, I felt smug and vindicated. I even jumped up and down a little bit shouting “I knew it, I knew it.”
Do you remember last summer how I tried to get everyone to read Love is a Mixtape? And the summer before that when I wanted everyone to read King Dork? This is the new Love is a King Dork Tape, that’s how great this book is.
P.S. You can read Lauren Groff’s Book Notes essay and find a whole slew of links and information over at Largeheartedboy. Oh, and one more thing, why wouldn’t you want to read the book of someone who lists both Wilco and Jeff Buckley in their book notes essay? yeah, that’s what I thought, go read the book already. Sheesh.