Chills. Chills

That’s what I felt at the end of my latest audiobook ARC, The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope. Why? More on that later…

The Monsters We Defy takes place in 1925 Washington DC. There, we meet Clara, a young girl who, due to a mysterious exchange (that saved her life) in her past, is cursed with the ability to talk to spirits. Clara would do anything to rid herself of this “gift” and pay off her debt—and is given the opportunity in the form of a heist. She and a band of artists of DC’s legendary Black Broadway must risk it all to face their own demons and ultimately save more than just Clara.

I really enjoyed this audiobook! The story was gripping, and expertly weaved in Black folklore, history, fantasy, and a magic system into the thrill of a good heist. Growing up in the south, I have a basic knowledge of Gullah Geechee lore, so seeing some similarities in this story was exciting. I also absolutely adored Zelda, Clara’s lovable (to everyone but Clara at times) friend and roommate! She was often the comedic relief that we needed, and I found myself regularly wishing I had a friend like Zelda. She cracked me up! I appreciated Clara’s familial bonds, especially with Mama Octavia, the spirit of her long departed grandmother, but also references to Clara not having a perfect family life—her mother’s abandonment. Stories are more real when they are relatable, and I’m sure many will relate to not growing up within a perfect family unit. I also enjoyed how the book left, not on a major cliffhanger, but with questions that you still want answered. It opens the door for (hopefully!) book two—we have to know what powers the ring—the object of the heist—possesses!

The narrator in this audiobook, Shayna Small, was fantastic, as well! She did an excellent job of differentiating between character’s voices. I especially loved how she was able to master the generational differences in accents. It’s difficult to describe, but her accent and the way she spoke as Mama Octavia was different than her speaking for the younger characters, and was so realistic that I often wondered if there were more narrators than just her. There weren’t, she’s just that good!

So what gave me chills? This heads slightly into spoiler territory, so proceed with caution. In the Author’s Notes at the end of the book, Leslye points out that she took inspiration for Clara’s story from the inspiring story of Carrie Johnson (more on that here), which has uncanny similarities to that of Breonna Taylor, 100+ years apart. You want to think that we as a people are growing and evolving, then the realization that we are still warring with issues we had 100 years ago slaps you in the face. 

This book left me both inspired to continue to demand change, but also reeling for (hopefully!) book two. I have to know what comes next, and there are more mysteries to be solved!

BRB, reading more about Carrie Johnson now,