"Aren't you that Monalisa Kent girl?"
NO, Mona wants to answer—but there's no point. Everyone knows who she is, and everyone—yes everyone in the entire town of Muessa Junction hates her.
Once Muessa Junction wasn't just a freeway exit where people filled up on fried fast food and got out of town. Once it was a place where classy furniture was made, where Mona's dad designed gorgeous iron futons that were works of art. All that changed when Mona was six—and the furniture factory that was the town's bread and butter and heart and soul center—burned down.
'Cause Mona torched it.
Okay, so she was only six. And it was AN ACCIDENT. But the eccentric town of Muessa Junction doesn't forgive and forget, and who cares that she was only six? Monalisa Kent killed Muessa Junction. Strangers come up to Mona and blame her for their sad lives, their fried food industry jobs, their low-wage, no-hope circumstances.
And Mona blames herself. Her best friend, Pancho, was with her, only five, and his eyes were damaged in the fire. He hides behind dark shades and sarcasm, and when Mona looks at him, that's all she sees. Binny, once a fireman, lost his nerve in that fire, and now has an existence selling...smoke. Incense. Mona's dad has nothing left, and lives like a hermit, until the tenth anniversary of that fateful fire. Then he rises, puts on a smile, and is the town hero.
He saved his daughter, and his daughter's best friend, when the firemen could not. But he couldn't save the furniture factory. And he didn't save the town.
'That Monalisa Kent' girl could be the most hated girl in the state, but Mona hates her townfolk, too—a lot. She hides behind dyed blue hair in the back rooms of a tattoo parlor, slapping bumper stickers onto her shoes and spouting someone else's wisdom instead of speaking her own. But Mona's own wisdom is speaking to her—loudly. Her flashbacks and nightmares are telling her—the night of the fire isn't quite the way that everybody says it is.
The past. It has a way of sneaking back from the dead, and biting you in the butt.
Full of surreal, eccentric characters, Honk If You Hate Me is a bit unusual. The ending has a twist which is surprising, and leaves the reader slightly dissatisfied, but Mona's feelings of anger and not fitting in are spot on.
This review was first published in the October '07 Edge of the Forest Children's Literary Journal.
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