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In the Skin of a Monster by Kathryn Barker

In the Skin of a Monster

by Kathryn Barker

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In the Skin of a Monster by Kathryn Barker was this year's YA Aurealis Award-winning novel, which is the main reason I picked it up. It also helped that I happened to see it at the library, otherwise it probably would've remained on my "meaning to get around to reading" list for a while longer.

In the Skin of a Monster was not quite the book I thought it would be. From the blurb (and the opening) we learn that Alice's twin sister took a gun to school, three years ago, and killed a bunch of kids. I thought the story would be about Alice coming to terms with the fact that she looks like her sister and that other people see her sister when they look at her. That stuff was in the book, but it was the backstory, not the main plot.

The plot was about Alice being transported to a world of dreams and nightmares, literally, where she encounters dreamt up versions of people she knows or knew in the real world and has to avoid being killed by various nightmare versions. The story is told in alternating chapters from Alice's point of view and Lux's, one of the people who's always lived in the dream/nightmare world. When the story first switched to Lux's perspective, I was a bit thrown because I hadn't been expecting it and because I didn't understand where it was going. As I read more, though, things fell into place and I realised what kind of story this really was.

Barker uses the nightmare/dream world to interesting effect, showing us — through the informative filter of Alice — all the different versions of the twin with the gun that people have been dreaming about (including, for example, the two movie versions who look nothing like her).

Alice's sections are told in second person, as if she's speaking to her twin while relating the events of the story. This, combined with how the other characters talk to Alice (and the fact that no one in the dream/nightmare world knows anyones real names), has the effect of never telling the reader the name of the twin and adding to the, well, unspeakable-ness of what she did.

I enjoyed reading In the Skin of the Monster, especially once I got a proper feel for what sort of book it is. I would classify it as horror — not thriller, which is sort of what the school shooting aspect initially suggested to me — but its not so horrific as to be unsuitable for its YA audience. Also, Barker does a surprisingly good job of taking an event we might associate as more of an USian occurrence and making it work as the background for a story with a very Australian setting. I would recommend this book to fans of YA fantasy and horror. It was not difficult to read but, as you can probably guess from the subject matter, it wasn't what I would call a cheerful read. That said, it also could have been much darker than it was. I can see why it won the Aurealis Award.

4.5 / 5 stars

You can read more of my reviews on my blog. ( )
  Tsana | May 13, 2016 |
Interesting one. I persevered even though it was nothing like I expected the book to be.
Alice is the twin sister of a girl who went on a shooting rampage at a small outback town school 3 years ago; killing 7 students and then herself.
The effect on Alice was that she has been hospitalised for much of the 3 years and now is back looking like everyone’s worst nightmare.
To pass the day, Alice wanders out of town counting her steps ….it is when she reaches the border of the town that she encounters a version of herself. She touches the version and suddenly finds herself in a nightmare (literally) world.
Told from alternating chapters – Alice and a strange immortal called Lux, this book was so weird!
Basically it is a take on the dreamtime myth and the town ( called Collector) is a place where the dream world and the real world intercept. Alice’s entries deal with her feelings towards her sister and what she did and the guilt that she didn’t stop her.
Lux’s entries are more complex in that he is accompanied everywhere by a monster called Ivan, who believes that Lux is part of a great prophecy.
This is Barker’s first book and some of the symbolism is a bit overdone…..Lux = light/hope and therefore is a good name for an angel. Alice = Alice in Wonderland…D’oh! Kell = Kill.

. ( )
  nicsreads | Nov 8, 2015 |
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