The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless

Monstrous MemoirsBy Ahmet Zappa [LibrarythingAmazon]

Minerva McFearless and her younger brother Max come from a long line of monster hunters (or “monsterminators”), but their widowed father has forbidden them to study something so dangerous. The two young McFearlesses practice in secret, though, which comes in handy when their father is kidnapped and brought before the king of all evil, the Zarmaglorg. Now, with the help of the talking encyclopedia Ms. Monstranomicon, and Mr. Devilstone, a mysterious one-eyed coyote with plans of his own, Max and Minerva must rescue their father before the Zarmaglorg uses his knowledge to flood the world with monsters.

There’s something about the Monstrous Memoirs experience that feels less like reading a book and more like reading a desperately developing franchise. I don’t know if it’s the blitz of promotional materials my advance copy came with or what, but I couldn’t escape the feeling that someone was trying to sell me something. And with odd sales tactics, too – are a lot of kids going to care that the author is Frank Zappa’s son? Are they even going to know who Frank Zappa is?

The story itself is thin but serviceable. Minerva is likeable enough, although as your standard Everykid protagonist she’s of necessity a bit bland. Max is less likeable, a standard “annoying little brother” type with some nervous tics pasted on, and his relationship with Minerva is alarmingly vicious, for siblings who are supposed to be fairly typical, monsterminating aside. I mean, my sister and I don’t always get along, but I wouldn’t take delight in her being maimed by a possibly lethal book. The McFearless father is mainly useless, and Mr. Deviltongue is essentially a walking deus ex machina who very rarely displays sufficient motivation for any of his actions, making his character an extremely uneven one that falls far short of the “lovably irascible mentor” archetype Zappa was clearly shooting for.

One character I would have liked to have seen more of was Ms. Monstranomicon. She appears to be the only one of her kind, and thus is the only monster species entirely allied to the side of good. However, as a mostly inanimate book that can’t be exposed to direct sunlight, she doesn’t have much of an active role. The main thing she can do is give up her knowledge, but unfortunately Zappa presents said knowledge to us in the form of excerpts, rather than interactions with Ms. Monstranomicon herself. Other than that she’s given very little to do besides scream, be rescued, and fawn over Mr. Devilstone. The only female in the book besides Minerva isn’t just a theoretical object, she’s a literal object, a damsel in distress deprived of her voice for the things that matter. That’s more troubling to me than any of the monsters between her covers.

It’s not as if the excepts justify their inclusion. More often than not, they interrupt the flow of the action, jumping in during a climatic moment to describe the foe the McFearlesses are currently fighting. Each excerpt is accompanied by directions for making a charm to ward off that particular type of monster, usually involving mixing gross ingredients together and reciting gibberish. Woe betide the parents whose child attempts one of these protective spells. The monsters themselves are more gross than scary, which, to be fair, would probably be funnier to me if I were eight. It renders the villains rather unintimidating, however.

Finally, the book is crammed full of art – illustrations in a naturalistic style, cartoony illustrations done by Zappa himself, and staged photographs of scenes from the book. The varying styles make the book a little too busy, but the photographs are by far the worst. They fail to convey any sense of motion whatsoever, and the monsters look hilariously fake in them. The Zarmaglorg in particular looks like a plastic Chernabog from a discarded Disney World set piece of Fantasia.

The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless gets 2.5 cupcakes, plus an extra scowl from me for making me type that title out so many times. For me the acid test is always whether I’d pick up the sequel, and though there’s another Memoir planned, I’m leaving it on the shelf.

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    2 Responses to “The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless”

    1. tiffany says:

      i love this book it rocks like crazy my friends even thinks so in my school we are doing a play on it and i am the dad(manfread) it is the BEST BOOK EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!::}:}:}:}:}:}:}:}:_:}:}:_:}:_:}:_:}:_:}:_:}:_

    2. […] this blog I’ve run across quite a few books where the siblings are viciously nasty to each other, actively wishing for the other to experience physical agony and so on. Like, ten-year-old kids, wishing for this. I find that more than a little disturbing. […]

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