Tara Goedjen’s No Beauties or Monsters, as its title and book cover suggest, is compellingly creepy. Unlike many classic creepy tales, however, this story unfolds in a small town on the edge of the Mojave Desert rather than a tiny cabin enshrouded by New England woods.
As the story and all its mysteries unfold in this stark landscape, we follow Rylie, a 17-year-old high school senior who moves with her family back to Twentynine Palms, the aforementioned town in the Mojave Desert where her distant and sometimes-cruel grandfather lived right up until his recent death.
Rylie’s memories of the town are tied up with tragic events that occurred when she lived there four years ago. And when she returns, tragic events continue to happen: People are going missing, including her friend Lily; there are creatures in the desert that are coyotes but not coyotes; and if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a deranged killer on the loose. To make things even more mysterious, Rylie is also experiencing gaps in her memory, making her a very unreliable narrator as she tries to unravel the truth about the town and, ultimately, about herself.
The mysteries in No Beauties or Monsters are many and complex, but they all revolve around the secrets people keep and how others deal with various losses in their life. Rylie’s mom, for example, works for the military on hush-hush projects. The king of secrets, however, is Rylie’s grandfather, who had a whole side to him that Rylie never knew about. Rylie gradually unearths her grandfather’s secrets as the story progresses with the persistent help of her step-brother, who of course has secret motivations of his own.
Throughout the twists and turns Rylie goes through to uncover the truth, No Beauties or Monsters also touches on how several characters must face losses in their life. The biggest one for Rylie is the death of her father, who died in a car crash four years ago in the same town. Her step-brother Kai has also lost his mother, and other characters face similar losses. “Sometimes you don’t miss what you have until it’s right in front of you again and no longer yours,” Rylie thinks early on in the story. It’s a thought that echoes through the rest of the book, giving the fast-paced plot more depth than one might find in a typical thriller.
Like a good thriller, however, No Beauties or Monsters is a compelling story, one that keeps the plot moving forward and will likely have you eagerly flipping pages to find out what happens next.
There are a lot of characters and moving parts—arguably too many, as there were some side characters that did little to move the story forward and who are thrown in with little context. But the congestion of characters aside, the book delivers answers to the mysteries it throws at you in ways you may not expect.
The twist at the end wasn’t what I expected (a good thing!), and it more or less worked in explaining all the odd, creepy, and confusing things that Rylie and the rest of the town experienced. If you liked T. Kingfisher’s The Twisted Ones, you’ll probably dig No Beauties or Monsters as well—the creepiness feels similar here. The story has definite suspense to it and an eerie vibe that escalates as we learn more and, as mystery thrillers sometimes go, consequently seem to know less. And throughout it all, you can’t help but root for Rylie, even when neither of you are sure if she’s the hero of the story.
No Beauties or Monsters is published by Delacorte Press.
Vanessa Armstrong is a writer with bylines at The LA Times, SYFY WIRE, StarTrek.com and other publications. She lives in Los Angeles with her dog Penny and her husband Jon, and she loves books more than most things. You can find more of her work on her website or follow her on Twitter @vfarmstrong.