Jon Skovron’s newest YA novel, Man Made Boy, follows his protagonist on a journey of self-discovery across America. He has some adventures, falls in love, gets a job and learns a thing or two about family and responsibility—but it's complicated by the fact that he’s also the son of Frankenstein’s Monster and his Bride.
Boy—yes that’s his name—grew up in an enclave of monsters who live beneath the Time Square theater where they perform for unsuspecting humans. Boy handles their IT needs, plugging his brain right into the computer instead of fumbling at a keyboard with his too-big fingers or burning out another pair of eyes staring at a screen. He’s got hacker friends on the internet and a hot troll chick he has a crush on, but at sixteen Boy is ready to get out on his own and meet people in the real world. His parents hope to send him to the University of Geneva, but Boy decides to take matters into his own hands.
Things aren’t easy for a teenage runaway. Luckily, Boy can pass as a recently injured human and New Yorkers are hard to faze. But it doesn’t take much to have his newfound freedom threatened, and it isn’t long before Boy is on the run again, this time with the granddaughter(s) of Dr. Jekyll.
No matter what happens in the book, from the outlandish to the mundane, Boy is the grounded teenage voice at the heart of the book, a deeply believable character. The depth of feeling he experiences when he falls in love, when he tries to ignore how he screwed up, when he fails abjectly, makes it easy to forget that he’s constructed out of dead body parts. Teenage guys in science fiction can easily fall into the “overly confident expert” type, without the doubt and failure that makes such characters interesting. Skovron keeps Boy well out of brooding territory, while still making sure that he has real feelings. Sometimes it seems like YA fiction has a dearth of well-rounded male characters, which makes Boy’s emotional honesty refreshing.
The book’s picaresque plot moves along at a fast pace, introducing Boy (and readers) to a clockwork man, a centaur, a kitsune and a Los Angeles special effects company. Boy and his companion(s) regularly get out of trouble via coincidence, which is initially annoying. It is so consistent until the end, though, that I realized it must have been a conscious authorial choice. Skovron seems to be trying to show how taking responsibility for one’s actions is how one becomes an adult. And it’s always great when taking responsibility means saving New York City from certain doom, not to mention lots of hand to hand fighting and some explosions.
Though the book involves Frankenstein’s Monster and it’s almost Halloween, it never veers into horror, staying strictly on the side of realistic—if, you know, there were monsters—and heartwarming adventures. If Man Made Boy hasn’t been optioned for a film or at least a CW series by the end of the year, we can be assured that Hollywood has actually forgotten how to read. Because Boy, for all his used parts, is an original.