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Little Monsters by Adrienne Brodeur
Literary fiction

Little Monsters

by Adrienne Brodeur
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Quick take

Over the course of one Cape Cod summer, a complicated family slowly unravels as its patriarch loses his grip on life.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SocialIssues

    Social issues

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Siblings



Ken and Abby Gardner lost their mother when they were small and they have been haunted by her absence ever since. Their father, Adam, a brilliant oceanographer, raised them mostly on his own in his remote home on Cape Cod, where the attachment between Ken and Abby deepened into something complicated—and as adults their relationship is strained. Now, years later, the siblings’ lives are still deeply entwined. Ken is a successful businessman with political ambitions and a picture-perfect family and Abby is a talented visual artist who depends on her brother’s goodwill, in part because he owns the studio where she lives and works.

As the novel opens, Adam is approaching his seventieth birthday, staring down his mortality and fading relevance. He has always managed his bipolar disorder with medication, but he’s determined to make one last scientific breakthrough and so he has secretly stopped taking his pills, which he knows will infuriate his children. Meanwhile, Abby and Ken are both harboring secrets of their own, and there is a new person on the periphery of the family—Steph, who doesn’t make her connection known. As Adam grows more attuned to the frequencies of the deep sea and less so to the people around him, Ken and Abby each plan the elaborate gifts they will present to their father on his birthday, jostling for primacy in this small family unit.

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Content warning

This book contains scenes that depict sexual assualt.

Why I love it

Adrienne Brodeur’s beautiful new novel, Little Monsters, is set in Cape Cod and my goodness, what authority she has in describing that world. The prose of this novel is alive with the sounds, smells, and sights of the rugged outer Cape, and you don’t have to be the least bit familiar with the area to be transfixed. But setting here is not merely incidental. The landscape, the marshes and the ponds, the whales beneath the surface of the ocean are all weaved into the tapestry of this incredibly moving portrait of a fractured family. Does the place we’re from become an integral part of our DNA? Are we in constant communication with the world around us, whether we realize it or not? This book argues: yes.

And then there are the people who populate the novel. First, we meet irascible Adam. He’s past his prime and knows it, so he’s clinging hard to a time that simply will not come back to him. From there we meet his children—Ken and Abby—and the rest of the cast. There is an immediacy to Brodeur’s language, a specificity that feels intimate and lived in. The characters came alive for me in vivid color, and I wanted for them all the things they wanted for themselves. Respect, a breakthrough, praise, and of course, love.

Little Monsters is my favorite summer read of 2023 and I know plenty of readers out there will agree with me. It pulsates with all the vibrancy of life itself.

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