“Spring semester of Bridger Whitt’s senior year of high school is looking great. He has the perfect boyfriend, a stellar best friend, and an acceptance letter to college. He also has this incredible job as an assistant to Pavel Chudinov, an intermediary tasked with helping cryptids navigate the modern world. His days are filled with kisses, laughs, pixies, and the occasional unicorn. Life is awesome. But as graduation draws near, Bridger’s perfect life begins to unravel. Uncertainties about his future surface, his estranged dad shows up out of nowhere, and, perhaps worst of all, a monster-hunting television show arrives in town to investigate the series of strange events from last fall. The show’s intrepid host will not be deterred, and Bridger finds himself trapped in a game of cat and mouse that could very well put the myth world at risk. Again.”
There are many things I enjoy about F.T. Lukens’ The Rules series. The humor is spot on, the characters immensely charming flawed, and the plot suitably bonkers. It’s delightful all the way around, the kind of series that makes me smile when I read it. Yet it’s not all fluff and sparkly unicorn poop. Beneath the surface, big themes rumble.
Bridger Whitt has an anxiety disorder. Because of it he overreacts to almost everything, which sometimes has the unintended side effect of making things worse. By Monster of the Week he’s gotten better at managing it – particularly by letting his friends and family ground him when he starts spiraling – but Lukens wisely makes sure we understand he isn’t trying to “fix” or “cure” his anxiety. Mental illness isn’t something that can be resolved. He has to learn how to work with and through his challenges. He isn’t broken, nor is his anxiety a “superpower.” It’s just part of who he is.
The novel also tackles toxic parental relationships. Bridger’s dad hasn’t been around hardly at all for most of his life. When he does turn up, he immediately tries to put Bridger in a box. He has a narrowly defined idea of what the “perfect” son is, and Bridger is very much not that. I went through a similar situation with my own father when I was not that much older than Bridger. So many YA books seem to push the idea that kids should always try to make a toxic parental relationship work, that even a bad parent is better than no parent. As someone who has a fantastic mom and shitty father, I wholly disagree. We don’t do kids any favors if we insist they keep around someone who drains their soul dry and causes them emotional turmoil, even if that person is a parent. Needless to say, I was glad to see Lukens offer Bridger the chance to take his life back and set his relationship with his father on his own terms.
If Monster of the Week is the last time we see Bridger, Leo, and Astrid, it’s a fine way to say farewell.
Thanks to Duet Books for sending me a review copy.