ALU Summer Book Club: Monster Child Staff Discussion
August 11, 2021
we introduced you to our August book club pick, Rahela Nayebzadah's Monster Child and shared a short interview with publisher Wolsak and Wynn for a behind-the-scenes look at how the book came together. This week, we got our Zoom book club on to talk about all the ways in which we loved this book: it was haunting, immersive, magical, layered. Check out some of the highlights from our discussion below (SPOILERS!) and download a reading guide for your own book club discussion.
LAURA: "I loved the dialogue. It entraps you, you're carried along with it. The story is fast paced and yet you feel immersed."
MANDY: "I read this novel in no time at all—it was captivating and haunting. I especially loved the visceral opening scene of the novel that completely demands your attention."
TAN: "There's a lot packed into Nayebzadah's writing even though it's compact...so many layers in this book."
1. The story is told through first-hand perspectives from the three children in the novel – Beh, Shabnam, and Alif. Was there a character you liked, could relate to or could empathize with the most? The least? If so, why?
Tan: "All three were so uniquely drawn and so real as characters that embody their experiences. I felt all of their positions very clearly and connected with them. Their positions weren't anything I have embodied, and yet I could connect with them. Each of the characters was a liittle unreliable, especially as children, as people are. But once you get all three of the perspectives you see how the family dynamics help and hinder the individual children."
Laura: "I was drawn to Beh. I felt she had the most strongly expressed viewpoint. I loved how the book visited the three different perspectives of the characters."
Mandy: "I typically don't like stories where the narration is told through multiple viewpoints, but it works here. I liked all three of them for different reasons: Beh is rebellious and forthright, Shabnam is kind and interesting, and Alif has a strong sense of family loyalty. They all felt very developed. I believed them. They felt like real people."
Leyla: "I think I related to Beh the most for her rebellious spirit. I remember feeling a lot like this when I was younger but with a lot less confidence. Though they came here when they were young, my parents are both immigrants to Canada. When I was growing up, my extended family held on to many cultural/religious traditions—some were practicing muslims, some still are. I always felt in some ways like this prevented us from being closer—that it introduced barriers between some of our relationships with one another. It was hard to be honest and open about who you were when it was in direct conflict with some of those more traditional ways of being.
I like Beh's character because she seems so fearless about who she is, but you can see her confront some of the challenges of those barriers—how culture and tradition can act to bring family together but also push them apart. I held onto the passage where they are sent to pray instead of visiting their mother in hospital. In her internal dialogue she says: 'We all want to be with Madar during this time, is that too much to ask? For once, can we put a pause on being Muslim?'"
2. Does your opinion of any of the characters change throughout the novel. If so, how?
Tan: "The dad doesn't seem as nice a guy by the end of the novel. Maybe it's because the story starts witht he youngest child who might be oblivious to whats happening with her parents. Then we move forward and we get more insight from the older siblings. By the end the dad doesn't seem like a charming, bumbling middle-aged man."
Laura: "I wasn't prepared for the aunt and uncle to be villainous as they are. I thought it was interesting how the end flips expectations on its head about foster care. In the end foster care is their better choice. In this case, the extended family bond isn't everything."
Mandy: "My opinion of Madar changed depending on the narrator. As the story goes on, a softer and more complex side is revealed. I came to like her a lot."
Leyla: "I think my opinion of Madar changed a couple times throughout the novel. She is stern but I think especially once she ends up in hospital we're presented with a more vulnerable side of her, more stories are brought forward that shed light on her life before marriage and then while married to Padar. I think ultimately she is more of a victim of her circumstances. We're also given a deeper reason behind why she doesn't like it when Shabnam references her biological mother."
3. Blood is a motif throughout the novel. Discuss its significance in the book.
Laura: "I think Shabnam's tears of blood are supposed to be her monstrosity."
Tan: "For Shabnam to be crying blood on people pollutes her in their community. Shabnam is constantly holding her tears in because it's an impurity of herself. I wonder if there's a deeper significance in their cultural tradition."
Mandy: "I loved the off-kilter, reality adjacent nature of blood in the novel. It seemed to spill throughout the novel, holding a literal and figurative significance. Animals bleed to feed people, Shabnam literally cries tears of blood marking her as strange or an outsider, family blood relations are not as expected."
4. There are undercurrents of magical realism in the story. How does it affect your reading of the novel?
Mandy: "The supernatural elements of the novel gave me a sense of being in another place and time despite the book being set in a modern time in Canada, which worked for me. The strangeness never took me out of the story though; it only made it more memorable."
Tan: "There's this mother magic, this matrilineal line that is mystical and beyond the body. Shabnam tells us her bloody tears caused her mother's death through her birth. She bears this ocean of tears inside of her because of the loss of her mother. The second mother figure, Madar, comes back as a ghost—she has the power to transcend death and protect these children."
5. Who is the monster child, in your opinion?
Barb: "They all refer to themselves as the monster child. But it's obviously Amir!"
Leyla: "I don't know that I believe any of the children are truly the 'monster child' I think at times throughout the book, all three find ways to identify as monstrous, which I think is really just a way of saying 'other'—something other than what they feel they (or their culture says) they should be. It's easy to think it's Shabnam—she cries blood and is not Madar's biological daughter. But I think Beh also identifies as monstrous in some sense, in that she doesn't fit the mold of 'obedient' muslim daughter. I won't say why I think Alif could identify as monster, but I think there is a case for that further into the book. But in all three cases, I think the children are ultimately just victims of their own familial and cultural circumstances."
Mandy: "There are ways in which all the characters act out and do the 'wrong' thing. But they're also kids. Maybe the monster is other people's judgement, the way behaviour is deemed right or wrong by others. And maybe the way someone's uniqueness is deemed as 'weird.'"
6. Monster Child contains a glossary of Dari words used in the novel. How do you tackle a book with a glossary?
Barb: "It depends on how I read a book. Digitally I read the glossary in one go; but if in print I look up each word as they come up."
Leyla: "I read this book as a PDF so I actually didn't really use the glossary. Some of the words were familiar to me already and others I was able to find meaning through context."
Mandy: "I can speak conversational Farsi so some of the Dari words were familiar to me, though I did end up reading the whole glossary during my reading of the book."
Laura: "Nayebzadah was so skillful in the way she wove those words in that I didn't really need the glossary. I kind of didn't realize how many different words were woven in when I read the glossary after the fact. I love that the Dari words weren't italicized."
Tan: "I read most of the book without looking up the words because in context a lot of it made sense to me."
Stayed tuned Wednesday for our interview with Monster Child author Rahela Nayebzadah. In the meantime, you can
grab a copy of Monster Child here on All Lit Up (or use our Shop Local feature to find a copy at your local bookstore.) Don't forget to follow us on
Twitter for further, impromptu discussion. Hop on the hashtag #ALUbookclub to send us comments and questions!
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