Thank you Skyscape for providing me with an E-ARC of this book
Three cousins. Four days. One car. This smart and fearless road-trip novel is perfect for fans of David Levithan, Benjamin Alire Saenz, or Meg Medina.
THE ROUTE. Seventeen hundred miles from Portland, Oregon, to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
THE BEAST.Grandma Lupe’s 1988 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe.
THE BOYS.Three strangers who also happen to be cousins:
Matt.Evangelical Christian. Earnest. Film nerd. Carrying a dream to make movies–despite the future his father has planned for him.
Ethan.Jewish. Gay. Sci-fi nerd. Carrying a phone that contains his entire relationship with Levi–unless they finally get to meet IRL on this trip.
Oscar.Stoner. Smartass. Too cool to be a nerd. Carrying a letter that haunts him–no matter how hard he tries to escape it.
THE END …just might be a new beginning.
This powerful voyage in three voices marks the brilliant debut of Monica Zepeda.
It’s been a long time since I last reviewed a book in this blog, but I really wanted to write a full review for Boys of the Beast. I got an unsolicited ARC of this one and it was the first time I had heard of it, but I am so thankful I learned about it! It’s a road trip book about family bonding between these three cousins after the death of their abuela.
I definitely enjoyed it a lot, and completely inhale read it, lol. In two days, I had finished the book and it was a great ride from start to finish.
TRIGGER WARNINGS: death of a parent, references to school shooting, religious trauma and religious conversations, homophobia
- The mental health rep! Not only this book had great exploration of trauma, with Oscar confronting and healing from this traumatic situation that happened in his past, but it also offers great representation of how to handle mental health issues. I find that in teen fiction, it’s very common for characters to help each other out because they’re all struggling through something similar, and the fact this book hammered down how that is not enough and you should reach out to a medical professional instead was *chef’s kiss*.
- Family bonding. That was what I wanted to see the most in the book from the premise and it certainly delivered! I particularly loved the dynamic between Ethan and Oscar. At the beginning of the book, you can see Ethan really doesn’t like Oscar and sees him just as nothing but a stoner. To see how their dynamic evolves and how they end up is quite emotional. I also really appreciated how the story acknowledged that Matt wasn’t as close as the other two had become but it didn’t mean they hadn’t bonded in their own way.
- Oscar! But Ethan and Matt as well. Look, Oscar was just such a gem. He definitely has a bad reputation and got himself kicked out of so many schools. Yet, he’s very kind and sweet when you strip off those layers. I also love his journey to self-forgiveness so much. Ethan was also an incredibly supportive friend and I loved how he tries to communicate in a healthy way with all the people around him. And while Matt was my least favorite character, just because his religion made him come across as a bit tone deaf at times, I grew to like him at the end.
- The discussions on religion. Religion is a big theme of this book, which I didn’t expect. If you have experienced religious trauma, then maybe this one is not for you, as there are multiple instances of Matt saying he’ll use this road trip experience to preach for his cousins – which he does. However, I think the author was still able to show religion as this nuanced topic. Because of what Oscar has been through, he struggles to believe that bad things only happen to bad people and if you’re good, nothing bad will happen to you. However, for Matt, having that belief that God is taking him to wherever he needs to be gives him certainty and confidence. As someone who isn’t personally religious, I was still able to understand the characters very deeply.
- The road trip made no sense. OK, let’s start with the pettiest thing first, shall we? Look, the road trip made negative sense. It is what it is. Matt is the one who needs to take the car from Oregon to Albuquerque, where he lives. Ethan lives in Vegas and Oscar in Phoenix. If you know where these places are located in the US, then you know that what would make sense would be for Matt to drop off Ethan in Vegas and Oscar in Phoenix as then complete the last leg to Albuquerque alone. However, that’s not the plan. The plan is all three of them will ride to Albuquerque alone and then get a plane back home. How does it make sense that the road trip will drive them further away from home than closer??? The logistics gave me a headache. If Oscar and Ethan lived in Florida or Texas, then sure that would make sense for them to complete the trip by plane. But as it stands, I was just confused and wondering why their parents had agreed to such a terrible plan, lol.
- It could’ve been more Latine.While I do understand that books can just be about characters going through something and not necessarily focus on their marginalizations, the book lacked, for me, on more Latinx vibes. Even the parents are surprisingly chill about the fact their 16 year olds are staying in hotels alone and never calling. Ethan and Oscar text their parents like once during this 3 day trip. The most strict parents are Matt’s and his dad is white. If you ever interacted with any Latino parent, then you know that would never happen.
- The writing (at times). I did like most of the writing, because the chapters were short and it was easy to fly through it. However, at times this didn’t help the book, because the characters would jump into actions that were very OOC for them so abruptly it would give me whiplash. For example: at one point, they want to secure this parking space and Matt simply jumps out the car and goes to lie down on the street. Matt is this ultra religious, strict, shy kid randomly decides to lay down in the pavement of Los Angeles to secure a parking spot. This is very unlike him and yet the narration just has him do that as if it was nothing, which didn’t make sense.
Overall, I did enjoy this one a lot, even if the writing wasn’t perfect. I am not sure if this is Monica Zepeda’s debut, but the problems I found with the writing weren’t major in any way. I think there’s a lot of potential in this author’s writing, for sure!
I also really appreciated seeing family dynamics at the forefront of a YA novel, that is typically populated by love or friendship stories. This is definitely something I want to see more often!
Are you interested in reading Boys of the Beast? Whar are some of your favorite YA contemporaries featuring male protagonists? Let me know in the comments!