If your childhood was anything like mine, my English classes – for the most part – forced me to read ‘classics.’ Now many of those so-called classics sent me one clear message as a kid: You should hate reading.
Yep, many of the classics we read in school contained a lot of assumptions which as an adult has me wishing I could jump in a time machine and talk to some of my old teachers. Assumptions like this: That reading should be a difficult, nasty process seeing stories written from a perspective completely alien to your own, so alien that identifying or empathizing with what you read should be considered a luxury rather than a goal.
For me Lord of the Flies was part of that process. Its pseudo-Freudian/Jungian assumptions of id, ego, and superego “types” divided humanity neatly into good (restraining urges) and evil (satisfying urges) and insisted that evil pretty much had its way 9 times out of 10. I was supposed to buy into all the psychological assumptions in Lord of the Flies, and for a long time I did.
Yet one of the great joys of being an adult reader who gets to make my own decisions about reading (thank you very much!) is that I’ve discovered some awesome and amazing books which have meant so much to me and spoken to me in ways that many traditional American/English classics never have.
Monument 14 is that kind of book. Its poignant, totally riveting story focuses on a hodgepodge of high schoolers and younger kids in the small town of Monument, Colorado, pop. 7,000 give or take, who are thrown together after being confronted by a series of apocalyptic calamities. They face challenges that make the kids from Lord of the Flies look like a flock of tourists who lost their map. The main character and the other kids have to survive the dangers of extreme weather, an earthquake, bio-chemical weapons…and the tension ratchets up a notch nicely as the book progresses.
But what makes Monument 14 so effective (and Lord of the Flies so ineffective by comparison) is that the mixture of characters have to contend with each other, with conflicting personalities, and with the frightening demands of survival, and yet… All of these conflicts are balanced by a REALISTIC view of human nature, that in extreme situations humans often cooperate and reveal the best in their nature too.
To me that was always Lord of the Flies’ fatal flaw and weakness; it didn’t recognize this simple truth of human nature, this simple goodness. Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not a tree-hugging nature-loving idealist who believes in the inherent innocence of humanity. Far from it.
But I’ll take Adam Smith’s view and turn it to my advantage here. For those of who you wonder who the heck that is, Adam Smith was a bigwig thinker who famously pointed out that human beings are able to achieve extraordinary levels of cooperation BECAUSE of individual self-interest, not in spite of it.
As an author and avid reader, I like to see that truth come out in stories. And to me the mark of a good realistic survival story is that it shows this kind of true psychological depth rather than trying to fit human beings into easy stereotypes. Monument 14 shows how the characters work together not because they are all best buddies or because they all share the same values, but because of something deeply ingrained in their natures and the visceral human response to shared environmental challenges.
Monument 14 is an amazing book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes stories of adventure or survival. Get it here: http://www.amazon.com/Monument-14-Emmy-Laybourne/dp/1250027381/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426792880&sr=8-1&keywords=monument+14 I also have to shamelessly throw my own book into the mix here: The Princess Who Defied Kings has a trade paperback on Amazon for under $10. It’s a fantasy rather than apocalyptic story, but I’d like to think there’s a common thread between my writing and Ms. Laybourne’s. Princess is a story about a girl who faces extreme challenges of survival, but those challenges end up bringing out the better part of her nature instead of the worst. You can find it on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Princess-Who-Defied-Kings/dp/098864729X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426792942&sr=8-1&keywords=princess+who+defied+kings