And now, for my second review of a Mariko Tamaki book this year! In case you didn’t already know, I’m a huge fan of her work and how she always showcases queer and/or quirky weirdos in everything that she does. Her latest YA book Saving Montgomery Sole is, of course, no exception. It’s kind of strange, unpredictable, lovable, smart, and a bit hard to categorize. Actually, that’s probably an equally apt description of the main character Monty as of the novel itself.
Monty is a 16-year-old living in small-town California that’s surprisingly conservative, although maybe that’s just my naïve idea that everywhere in California is a bastion of queer friendliness. (Tamaki, who’s from Toronto, now lives in California last I checked, the same as the main character in this book). Things aren’t exactly the greatest for Monty: she’s peeved about the homophobic bullying her two moms and her gay friend Thomas have to put up with, she’s kinda obsessed with occult weirdo things which doesn’t exactly make her Ms. Popular, and lots of the people in her town are the kind of nuts that live for football games and eating non-fat frozen yoghurt. She’s totally righteously angry about hate and discrimination. To say Monty doesn’t fit in would be an understatement.
Cause she’s fascinated by everything unexplained and spooky in the world, Monty spends a lot of time online reading about stuff like telekinesis and spontaneous combustion. One day, while doing her regular surfing for the latest occult news, she stumbles upon a site selling a mysterious crystal amulet called the “Eye of Know.” Monty impulsively buys it. After it arrives and Monty starts to wear it around, though, weird stuff starts happening. Like, it’s almost as if it’s giving Monty some kind of power to get back at the bullies. A girl who was making fun of her moms has a horrible accident falling off the bleachers at a soccer game, for instance. Another bully falls over and has a seizure right in the middle of a confrontation when she touches the amulet.
The whole thing doesn’t make Monty feel cool and powerful though; in fact, she feels even more frustrated and alone. But she’s also still kind of hoping it’s gonna help her get even with the son of a famous televangelist preacher who’s just moved to town. Monty is convinced he (and his dad) are evil incarnate, just like all religion.
The strength is this book is really the characterization and the relationships. Monty’s far from likable sometimes and is right in the thick of teenage chip-on-your-shoulder angst. Thomas is a year older and a bit wiser: he has to tell Monty that sometimes, instead of raging over every little piece of homophobia she encounters, you kinda just have to role with the punches—otherwise, you’ll be swallowed. That’s his philosophy. Naoki, her new friend, eventually leads Monty to understand that she can’t keep assuming the worst of people and that being kind and giving people the benefit of the doubt is a good place to start.
I also love Monty’s talks with her parents, which are just so true to life. Tamaki is so so talented at teen dialogue / inner monologues. For example:
“What are you afraid is going to happen if someone is sad?” [her mom asks] They could leave, I thought. They could fold in on themselves and just disappear. They could not come out of the bedroom, ever. “Crappy things,” I said, finally.
It’s a brilliant translation of what teenagers think versus what they say. Here’s another great excerpt:
“So … screw you.” I said. I wanted to say it like a punch, but it came out kind of lame. Like an impulse buy at the checkout.
What I really love is that this is a great “issues” book for younger teens that doesn’t feel like an issues book at all. Over the course of the book Monty learns about some of the grey areas in things like homophobia, religion, sexism, and bullying, but she also doesn’t miraculously change tunes completely. Bonus, I found it hilarious every time Monty referenced something from my childhood—Home Alone, Back to the Future—as retro. She refers to Home Alone as “this relatively ancient movie [her sister] found on Netflix about this kid who gets left behind when his parents go away, because his parents are stupid and don’t know how to count their kids.” Ha ha!
Plenty of the reviews I’ve read mention that Monty’s voice sounds younger than 16, which I would have agreed with at first but I changed my mind. I think it’s good to remember that all kids age differently and that sometimes teens act younger than we might expect, or that they might combine things we associate with older and younger kids. Monty in the end was totally believable to me as a 16-year-old, with a totally believable mix of immaturity and teenage wisdom.
I think this is the first book I’ve ever read from the perspective of the kid of same-sex parents. We need more! This would be an AMAZING read for kids with queer parents. In fact, I’d highly recommend it for any reader about ages 12-16.