REVIEW: Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
Dear Tiffany D. Jackson,
I checked your YA novel, Monday’s Not Coming, out of the library after reading this blog post by Kristin Cashore, author of a couple of YA fantasy novels I hold as favorites. Cashore wrote about how the book (not fantastical but set in the real world) was structured, how compelling the story was, and about the wonderful use of color as a motif. All these things are indeed present in the book and there are other pleasures as well. But first, a plot summary.
Monday’s Not Coming’s narrator is Claudia, a fourteen-year-old (and later older) girl living in Washington, DC with her parents. Claudia only has one friend, Monday Charles, but it almost doesn’t matter that she doesn’t have others, because she and Monday are so close. They even have their own secret language. Claudia and Monday have been best friend for years so when Monday seemingly drops Claudia without a word, Claudia is upset and baffled.
This happens when Claudia visits her distant grandmama for the summer. Claudia doesn’t hear from Monday and at first she thinks it’s nothing serious. But when she comes home to DC, Monday still won’t answer her calls, and Claudia starts to worry.
Monday doesn’t show up to their middle school on the first day of school and neither does Monday’s young brother. August. When Claudia knocks on the door to Monday’s house (in a neighborhood she’s not allowed to visit on her own but does anyway because she misses Monday so much) Monday’s mother says the kids are with their father.
That’s unusual enough; Monday’s deadbeat father hasn’t been a factor in her life for years. But Monday’s phone number is soon disconnected and there is no apparent reason for that.
Claudia goes to every adult she thinks might be able to help her solve this painful puzzle: her own parents, the school principal, an English teacher she and Monday studied with the previous year, even the police and the school nurse. Some of the adults care but don’t get far in their own search for answers, some don’t want to intervene in what’s not their business, some are unconcerned and others haven’t even noticed Monday’s absence. The lack of urgency on their part, as much as the corresponding uncertainty about what happened to Monday, tortures Claudia.
As the months progress, Claudia begins to make new friends, including Michael, a boy she likes. Other peers become less intimidating to her, too. But she never forgets Monday. When practices for a dance recital, she imagines Monday suggesting steps and practicing them with her. As she gets closer to Michael, she wonders how Monday might have teased her about him. And without Monday to help her with her homework, English class gets overwhelming.
How can a girl just disappear and so few people notice? How can she matter so little to almost everyone who knows her? Digging deeper into the mystery, Claudia learns more about Monday and becomes aware of facets of her friend that she never knew about. She also learns more about the complicated nature of their friendship, and about aspects of her own character. These themes parallel each other. As Claudia gains self-awareness, she also gains agency, not only within the context of her pursuit of answers, but also within the rest of her life.
The book has a complicated structure. There are two main crisscrossing timelines, with chapters titled “The Before” and “The After.” But there are also chapters titled by months and occasionally chapters titled “One Year Before the Before” and “Two Years Before the Before.” The complex structure adds a lot to the tension and mystery of awaiting the moment we’ll find out what happened to Monday. But it is also confusing at times.
I loved Claudia. She has such tenacity and vulnerability. Her emotional dependence on Monday stems partly from her insecurities, and it takes her a long time to realize that she has just as much to offer Monday as Monday has to offer her.
Monday is more of an unknown, but her openness and warmth of personality, her good humor and her patience with Claudia, make her fate more paramount as they are shown.
Moving back and forth in time, as the novel does, makes it possible for the author to portray the strength of Claudia and Monday’s bond from multiple angles, so that we see their friendship in action and come to know and care about Monday ourselves, in addition to following Claudia’s poignant search. Claudia’s gain in agency as she nears the truth is mirrored by the reader’s growing dread of what will be revealed.
Several aspects of the book were really strong. Claudia is very much a teen, with the entire dependence on adults that this implies. She needs their help and whenever one won’t or can’t help her, she has to seek another who might. And whereas Claudia hasn’t made the leap to an adult sensibility herself, Monday is further along that continuum. Monday has little choice but to be, since she lives in an impoverished, dangerous area and has a difficult home situation.
The book contrasts Claudia’s background with Monday’s in other ways, too. Claudia’s father is a truck driver and her mom runs a catering / baking business from home. They don’t have much, but they love Claudia and provide for her. Claudia is well-clothed and well-fed, lives in a safe neighborhood, and her parents can come up with the money to enroll her in dance class and get her a tutor. Monday and her siblings, on the other hand, have much less (to say more about that would be to get into spoiler territory).
Claudia is aware of this but her awareness is peripheral. At first she doesn’t have the insight to recognize her own privilege and the ways it obscures from her the dangers Monday faces. All this is revealed bit by bit in a very effective way.
The girls’ personalities are also contrasted. Claudia is a shy introvert, Monday is gregarious and people-loving, comfortable approaching others and quick to get to know them. English is Claudia’s worst subject at school, but Monday is book-loving and writes well.
But Claudia and Monday also share loves—Monday is great at doing hair, and Claudia’s artistic skills make her a great amateur nail technician. Both girls love to dance, love to laugh together, and to speak in code.
The combination of complementary traits and shared passions, the ways Monday and Claudia differ and the ways they are the same, is terrific and lay the groundwork to support Claudia’s belief that Monday is indispensable to her, that Claudia’s world will never be the same if she can’t locate her friend.
Another great thing about the book is that it begins with and is driven by Claudia’s need, but as it progresses, our picture of both girls and of their friendship is enriched not just by the flashbacks to their togetherness but also by the perceptions of the other characters and by Claudia’s own thoughts. And as that picture is filled out, shaded, and given depth, the friendship matters to the reader more and more.
Though Claudia develops some independence and becomes less needy of Monday, the narrative’s focus on Monday and on all that she meant to Claudia grows. As Claudia learns to survive without her friend, we need the truth more, not less.
The side characters are well-drawn too, from Claudia’s caring parents to her supportive teachers, from mean kids at school to distant girls at dance class, and to Michael, a boy who, too use an old-fashioned sentence, is sweet on Claudia. Claudia and Michael’s connection is touching. He is exactly what she needs, but he also reminds her of what she has lost—like Monday, he is comfortable talking to other kids. Claudia wishes she could tell Monday about him.
As Kristin Cashore’s essay notes, there is a motif of color that runs through the book. Claudia, with her artist’s eye, describes things by their color and is very specific in naming colors, using cyan instead of just blue, for example. Monday’s favorite color, pink, stands out to Claudia in Monday’s absence. Claudia’s father gives her adult coloring books to help soothe her spirit. Color is part of how Claudia processes the world. As Cashore says, this has a unifying effect. It’s one of the things that pull together the whole book.
The book was moving and at times even heartbreaking because the friendship meant the world to both girls, and without Monday, Claudia feels so very alone. The bubble in which she has kept herself safe begins to feel empty and meaningless. I cried a lot as I read the book. My husband read it with me and even he got teary-eyed.
However, I do have a few criticisms:
As I said before, the back-and-forth nature of the structure gets confusing sometimes.
There is a big twist late in the novel that comes out of nowhere and is a lot to absorb. It is so out of left field that it makes the book feel gimmicky in a way that mars the reading experience.
There was a scene that bothered me because Claudia behaved very much out of character. She was drunk and I guess that was supposed to explain it but I still didn’t buy it.
My last criticism involves a huge spoiler.
A couple of these are pretty big caveats and they frustrated me because the book was so good otherwise. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it a lot and I recommend it. B/B+.