Title: The Monster of Her Age
Author: Danielle Binks
Publisher: Lothian/Hachette Australia
Published: 28th July 2021
Synopsis: In a neo-Gothic mansion in a city at the end of the world, Ellie finds there’s room enough for art, family, forgiveness and love. A coming-of-age story about embracing the things that scare us from the author of The Year the Maps Changed.
How do you ruin someone’s childhood?
Ellie Marsden was born into the legendary Lovinger acting dynasty. Granddaughter of the infamous Lottie Lovinger, as a child Ellie shared the silver screen with Lottie in her one-and-only role playing the child monster in a cult horror movie. The experience left Ellie deeply traumatised and estranged from people she loved.
Now seventeen, Ellie has returned home to Hobart for the first time in years. Lottie is dying and Ellie wants to make peace with her before it’s too late.
When a chance encounter with a young film buff leads her to a feminist horror film collective, Ellie meets Riya, a girl who she might be able to show her real self to, and at last comes to understand her family’s legacy.
A story of love, loss, family and film – a stirring, insightful novel about letting go of anger and learning to forgive without forgetting. And about embracing the things that scare us, in order to be braver.
Ellie Marsden has returned home from boarding school in Melbourne, back to the Lovinger house in Hobart. Her grandmother, Lottie, a famous actress, has had a stroke, and is dying. So the family comes together to say their farewells, and reveal long-hidden secrets. Yet Ellie is reluctant to experience all this due to childhood trauma from her role in a horror film with her grandmother. Her trauma led to an estrangement from her family – and she doesn’t want to relive the experience. Yet when she returns home, she meets Riya and a horror film club celebrating women in horror – the ones left at the end of the movie, and the women who worked on the films behind the scenes. The film club is diverse – Ah Pei, and Jen, a Deaf girl who helps everyone learn Auslan, and Riya is Hindu, and Ellie is Jewish – and the novel allows these characters to be who they are and explores relevant aspects of their identities to help us get to know the characters. This gives a voice to these characters and allows them to be who they are – each aspect is an important part of their identity, but the crux of their friendship – the most important part for me – was their common and shared interest in films, and for these girls, horror films.
I loved that girls – and a beautifully diverse cast of girls at that in so many ways – were the centre of the novel, and the empowered voices that grew throughout the novel, especially Ellie and Riya as Ellie learnt to trust and find a way to deal with and talk about her trauma as she navigated difficult memories, new relationships and unexpected but delightful feelings about another character. Ellie’s journey about her place in the world and in her family, and her place in the fictional Australian film industry that Danielle has created is one that will have wide appeal, as there will be different facets of her life that will appeal or feel relevant to different readers.
I loved that this ode to the arts came when it did – at a time when the arts are not always valued but are used in daily life in so many ways that without them, we’d have no clothing, entertainment or design aspects that make up our lives and experiences. Danielle shows that the arts are important, and that they should be valued in all their iterations, and that’s what Ellie and her friends set out to do in this novel, though at first Ellie seems reluctant to embark on the horror film journey with the film club, as she doesn’t want to be reminded about the movie she was in. Yet Danielle cleverly brings the universal aspects together with the individual aspects of her diverse cast of characters to create a story that speaks to so many, and evokes a sense of finding where you belong, and finding yourself, even if it is painful to do so. I really enjoyed this novel, and love Danielle’s work. I cried and laughed whilst reading this, and cheered for Ellie as she made friends and worked out her identity, and loved that eventually, she was allowed to be herself.