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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2055

Author: Emmy Laybourne (b. 1971)

First published: 2012–15

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Apocalyptic and catastrophe fiction

Time of plot: 2024

Locales: Monument, Colorado; Vancouver; Columbia, Missouri

Principal characters

Dean Greider, a bookish narrator

Astrid Heyman, his crush, Jake's girlfriend

Alex Greider, his younger brother

...

(The entire section contains 2055 words.)

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Author: Emmy Laybourne (b. 1971)

First published: 2012–15

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Apocalyptic and catastrophe fiction

Time of plot: 2024

Locales: Monument, Colorado; Vancouver; Columbia, Missouri

Principal characters

Dean Greider, a bookish narrator

Astrid Heyman, his crush, Jake's girlfriend

Alex Greider, his younger brother

Jake Simonsen, a popular athlete

Brayden Cutlass, a bully

Niko Mills, a compassionate leader

Josie Miller, a caregiver

Sahalia Wenner, an eighth-grade girl who wants to fit in

Chloe Frasier, a leader among the elementary-age children

The Story

The first book of the Monument 14 trilogy starts with brothers Dean and Alex getting ready for school. They run out the door and climb aboard two different school busses, one heading to the high school and the other to the middle and elementary schools. When a strange hail storm begins, cars begin swerving all over the road. The high school bus crashes, killing all but six of the students aboard. Mrs. Wooly, the driver of the other bus, saves her children by driving through the front of a local Greenway superstore. She then returns to rescue the older students, first ordering the younger children to stay in the store while she ventures out to get help amidst a world that is falling into chaos.

When Mrs. Wooly does not return, the castaways are left to fend for themselves. Fortunately, they have plenty of food, water, clothing, and other supplies in the store to help them survive. They learn that there has been a chemical leak at a local company, which, depending on a person's blood type, leads to terrible physical and psychological effects. Those with type O blood become violent, people with type AB become paranoid, type A blood causes skin blisters, and those with type B become sterile but experience no other physical or mental effects. The group is evenly split among blood types, so they learn to adapt and survive more than just the chemical disaster and its frightening effects; they also learn to live together.

As a group, they react to stress in different ways: Jake and Brayden raid the store's alcohol aisles and the pharmacy's medications. Alex and Niko head toward the electronics section, and Niko assumes a leadership position. Dean and Josie take charge of basic needs, such as food, shelter, and care of the young children. Astrid runs away and refuses to take responsibility, while Sahalia does what she can to fit in with the older boys. For the most part, the younger children seem to adapt more easily and are content to follow the lead of the teens.

Life is not easy for this group of frightened youngsters despite having their basic needs met. When they let two adult outsiders into the store, they at first hope to be saved. However, one of the men attacks the group, and Brayden is shot as he tries to protect the younger children. Jake goes in search of medical help, but when he discovers that the town is essentially deserted, he runs away. The remaining group decides to find help for Brayden and leave the protection of the store in order to travel to Denver, where they have been told is an evacuation site. When Astrid refuses to go, revealing to Dean that she is pregnant with Jake's baby, he decides to stay with her. The two teens keep Chloe with them since she also suffers from the dangerous anger of type O, and five-year-old twins Caroline and Henry cling to the security they have found with Dean's caregiving, so the group is torn apart.

The second book in the series, Sky on Fire, picks up where the first book ends. Niko, Alex, Sahalia, Josie, and three of the younger children have left the safety of the Greenway store in order to get the injured Brayden to Denver and to help. Dean, Astrid, Chloe, and the McKinley twins have stayed behind at the store. The trip to Denver is fraught with difficulty, each instance of which slows them down. Conflict builds in the story when a group of camouflaged boys steals the bus and throws everyone out onto the road to fend for themselves. The boys then head back to Monument, intent on taking over the store. The teens' leadership abilities are tested as they learn to protect the younger children while trying to get to Denver without a vehicle. Though they had previously thought Josie was type AB, they find out she is type O, and her resulting anger both puts the other members of the group in danger and also serves to protect them. When the group is trapped by a crazed father-son duo, they are temporarily rescued by Mario Scietto, an elderly man with a bomb shelter, but in saving the group, Josie murders two men and then refuses to rejoin her friends.

Meanwhile, Dean and Astrid struggle to keep outsiders out of the store while also fighting against the physical and emotional effects of the chemicals. Dean is forced to kill a man to protect his group, but Jake's return and the invasion of the boys who had stolen the bus complicate the safety of their little family. While the Greenway loses its ability to keep the group safe, the other group finds a new level of security and hope for survival when they reach Denver and encounter the bus driver, Mrs. Wooly, who then spearheads a rescue mission back to Monument.

The third and final book, Savage Drift, begins after the group has been reunited. Some of the children's families have been found, which changes the group dynamic because the adults assume control and take over the care of the young children. The teens struggle with varied problems but make a plan to go to Pennsylvania to live with Niko's uncle. This dream holds them together while they live in a Canadian refugee camp. Astrid and Dean have become a romantic couple, but with the baby's birth looming sooner than they expected, Jake's presence is constant strain on their new relationship.

When Niko finds evidence that Josie and Mario Scietto are alive but are being held in a type O containment camp, he makes a plan to get them out. Though the others did not plan to go with him, the medical personnel's interest in Astrid's pregnancy and the teens' realistic fear that she will be sent for testing give Dean, Astrid, and Jake a reason to go along. Meanwhile, Josie and Mario struggle with dangerous conditions, and as one of the primary narrators, Josie reveals her fear of getting too close to anyone at the camp, even the new group of ragtag children who need her help.

The trip from Canada to Missouri is no less threatening than the earlier trip to Denver. Though the chemical menace had supposedly been stopped, there are drifts of the compounds still floating through the air in the Midwest, which threaten the group's ability to travel, and they are again separated with Dean, Astrid, and Jake remaining in one place while Niko continues on his way to Josie. Unsurprisingly, Jake runs from the responsibility of fatherhood, and despite the odds, Niko is eventually reunited with Josie, while Dean and Astrid welcome the birth of the baby. The dream of living on Niko's uncle's farm comes true, and though the original group has now shrunk to Niko, Josie, Dean, Astrid, Alex, and Sahalia, life is looking up.

Critical Evaluation

The series opens with a scene about family, which provides the context for two major themes found throughout the series. The first explores the ways in which people take for granted or do not appreciate what they have and what is normally part of an everyday routine. A second theme is defining, or redefining, what constitutes "family." Although Dean and Alex are brothers, they must learn to expand their idea of family beyond a genetic bond. While Alex accepts the other teens with a fairly open heart, Dean has a harder time opening up and being vulnerable. By the end of the first novel, however, the group has become more cohesive, and Dean knows he must choose the safety of both families over his own desires. When Niko loads the children onto the bus to head to Denver, Dean chooses to stay behind with Astrid. The couple keeps Chloe, while Caroline and Henry choose to be part of Dean's family. Alex struggles more with Dean's decision to stay since it is possible that the trip to Denver could reunite them with their parents. Family identities continue to change and be redefined throughout the series as missing parents are reunited with their children, strangers determine whether the others will succeed or fail, and a baby is born and becomes the newest member of the redefined family.

Other notable themes throughout the series include responsibility, teamwork, survival, and diversity. These are seen most clearly in the first book of the series when the group is settling in to its new reality and group members begin to define their roles. Each theme, however, is carried into the other books and is further developed, in varying degrees, throughout. Almost as a side note, teen sex is brought to light when romantic connections are made or discussed. Several sex scenes make brief appearances, and Astrid's pregnancy is presented not as something to elicit shame or disgrace, but to help illustrate the difficulties in relationships and in enduring the physical aspects of pregnancy.

Critics have noted Laybourne's skillful characterization and narration. Though each high school student conforms to a stereotype at the beginning of the series, by the end Laybourne has turned each into a complex personality. Dean, Alex, and Josie as primary narrators are the most developed. The first book is told completely from Dean's point of view; the second alternates between Dean and Alex; and the point of view in the final book varies between Dean and Josie. Dean grows from a rather shy, awkward teenager into a mature, caring adult. Though still young and immature in many ways, Alex learns to function well despite having a fearful personality, which readers see most notably at the beginning of the series. He evolves into a strong, compassionate young man. Josie's struggles are more outwardly noticeable since she progresses from being catatonic after the initial bus accident to becoming a mother figure to the young children and to a less confident young woman who struggles with the chemical side effects and her type O blood. By the end of the series, readers see Josie return to the sweet caregiver, but her journey has affected her more than the others'.

The diversity in character personality also adds to the conflict in the novel. Although the characters are constantly fighting to survive despite the effects of the chemicals on their biological makeup and personality, conflicts between characters occur throughout the series. Physical and mental issues cause problems but also serve to further develop a character's identity. Jake, for instance, seems like a strong leader in the beginning but is later revealed as weak, immature, and irresponsible. When he twice abandons his friends, readers are able to see that outside appearances are not always true evidence of inner makeup. The type O and type AB characters also struggle every time they are exposed to the compounds, with the physical battles occurring throughout the series. The violent scenes of Jake and Brayden beating up Dean and of Josie killing two people in order to protect her little group might bother some readers. The violence serves a purpose, however, in its ability to raise questions and ask readers to think critically about how they would react if the world as they knew it ended.

Further Reading

  • Kraus, Daniel. Review of Monument 14, by Emmy Laybourne. Booklist, 1 June 2012, p. 92. Literary Reference Center, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=77339740&site=lrc-live. Accessed 27 Feb. 2017.
  • Lempke, Susan Dove. Review of Savage Drift, by Emmy Laybourne. Horn Book Magazine, Sept./Oct. 2014, pp. 113–14. Literary Reference Center, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=97575489&site=lrc-live. Accessed 27 Feb. 2017.
  • Lempke, Susan Dove. Review of Sky on Fire, by Emmy Laybourne. Horn Book Magazine, May/June 2013, pp. 87–88. Literary Reference Center, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=87024831&site=lrc-live. Accessed 27 Feb. 2017.
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