“No Beauties or Monsters” by Tara Goedjen is the ultimate mystery novel. For most of the story, we have little idea what is happening. Why does main character Rylie lose track of time—for hours—and have no recollection of what happened? What is going on in Twentynine Palms and the nearby military base to which her mother was just transferred and where they visited her grandfather when Rylie was a child? And, in fact, what happened when Rylie was a child to estrange them from her grandfather?
Even their arrival is tinged with mystery as Rylie is driving to her grandfather’s house, where they are going to be living, when something runs in front of her car. She checks, and it’s a person under the car. But her phone dies as she’s calling 911, and then the body disappears. The mysteries just pile up as we keep reading. To add another layer of suspense to the atmosphere of complete mystery, Goedjen doesn’t reveal everything about the accident in which Rylie’s father died and her young brother Owen lost his vision. In fact, Goedjen is very stingy with details upfront about what is unfolding both in the present as well as in the past, leaving us to wonder about what could possibly be happening now and how it might relate to the past. We don’t know why her grandfather behaved so horribly to Rylie, and much about her stepbrother, Kai, is shrouded in mystery.
Even her best friend, Lor, is part of the mystery as Lor’s cousin, Iggy, implores Lor to stay away from Rylie. What does he know? And why did her childhood friend and neighbor, Lily, disappear? It was just before her grandfather’s death, so Rylie wonders if the two are connected. Nathan, Lily’s brother and Rylie’s best friend when they were young, seems mysterious as well. In fact, with the exception of her brother Owen, who clutches his father’s vintage recorder and tapes audio of everything that is going on, most of the characters in the novel are imbued with an aura of something-is-not-quite-right. Rylie’s mother is working nonstop on cutting the budget for the military, and so she’s not home much. And even “home,” their grandfather’s house, is strange and huge, and we learn that there are mysteries surrounding the cabin he owned in the desert.
The desert itself becomes almost another character in the story. It’s empty, desolate, yet at times filled with a strange fog that almost instantly can disappear. And what are the creatures with the yellow-tinted eyes? They are not quite coyotes, because coyotes don’t travel in huge packs like the creatures Rylie has seen. So then, what are they and why does it seem Rylie is the only one who has seen them?
We like Rylie, even if we are frustrated when she makes typical main-character mistakes like going out alone and putting herself in danger. We know there’s a homicidal maniac on the loose whom the local police and military are trying to find. And we don’t know who exactly can be trusted or not. Is there anyone from Rylie’s newly extended family who might be a part of the mystery?
If you are like me, you will not be able to stop reading once you’re halfway through this book. If for no other reason than the whole thing is filled with so many questions, you feel that you must find out what the answers are. You’ll be glad you did as the ending is surprising (at least it was to me), but not unrealistic when taking into account the clues Goedjen has provided. She times the release of information perfectly so as to create the maximum suspense while tying everything up beautifully at the end. Dialogue, description, and characters are all written to make this a novel we won’t quickly forget. And while this is listed as a young adult book, perhaps because Rylie is still a teenager, there’s no reason adults won’t also enjoy this compelling though sometimes confusing novel. The confusion, in fact, is one of its attractions.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Delacorte, the publisher, for review purposes.