Kind Hearts and Gentle Monsters Summary
Kind Hearts and Gentle Monsters is a sensitive psychological novel that explores themes of alienation, tolerance, and understanding in the relationship between two young characters who possess what at first seem to be irreconcilable differences. The novel is narrated by Charley Sabini, a logical, self-possessed sophomore at a Catholic high school who discovers that he has earned a considerable amount of hostility from his old grammar school friends who have transferred to public school. Chris Pomeroy, the girl who instigates this hostility, has a reputation for being an oddball. Chris is emotional, candidly critical of others, sarcastic, and often deliberately shocking in her behavior. Chris and Charley meet as the result of a poison-pen chain letter started by Chris and directed at Charley. Charley, in confronting Chris about her accusations of arrogance and lack of sensitivity, finds himself entering a romance in which he and Chris learn lessons about human understanding and tolerance.
For different reasons, both Charley and Chris are outsiders, but both of them begin to overcome this isolation through increased understanding of each other's strengths and weaknesses, and through their awareness that people carry "monsters" inside of them, monsters that are "gentle," however, if they are approached with human sympathy. The monsters of the novel's title are most fully realized in the character of Chris's mother, a demanding, neurotically meticulous, and subtly tyrannical woman with suicidal tendencies. Mrs. Pomeroy dominates her daughter's life, criticizing her every action, demanding her attention, and filling her with guilt while robbing her of any sense of self-esteem. Chris sees her mother as a monster who has eaten her deceased father "up alive." The novel's development is largely woven around Chris's struggle with her mother and Charley's attempt to both understand her struggle and help Chris understand it as well.
Both Chris and Charley learn to recognize their own monsters in the form of the personal feelings and characteristics which they both possess but either will not admit to having or dismiss as abnormal. These two young people discover that they are not as different as they assumed and each learns to view life from perspectives never experienced before. Charley discovers that the abrasive and often desperately boisterous behavior of Chris disguises a person who is essentially tender, emotional, and in need of encouragement and support. Chris learns that Charley's logical, restrained and seemingly unemotional appearance hides a growing sensitivity about others. Although she originally attacks him for being a "meddler," she discovers that meddling is often necessary to make human contact.
It is the believability of Yep's central characters and the vivid and crafted development of their growing awareness of self and others that, rather than plot, holds a reader's interest in the novel. Chris and Charley are both intelligent, often humorous, articulate, and always sympathetically portrayed young adults whose development consists not so much of changing each other as of discovering and understanding their own identities and the identities and feelings of others.