Monster in the Hollows, Day 2: The Family Connection

Christian Fantasy CSFF Blog Tour

In literature as a whole and particularly literature for young adults, family ties are often weak or disintegrating and parental figures absent or abusive. Granted, many know by experience the painful reality of fractured families, but strong, loving families do exist, and their absence in young adult novels is conspicuous.

I’ve discussed the topic of troubled families several times here, along with the lack of sibling and familial love in novels, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to explore a novel that depicts a loving family in a realistic manner–The Monster in the Hollows.

From the first page to the last, the family ties hold the book together and shape the decisions made and battles fought. Siblings Janner, Kalmar, and Leeli share a strong bond that helps propel the story forward. Not only do they stand for one another, they also suffer to ensure the well-being of one another. In particular, Janner endures many trials in his role as warden (protector) of his brother Kalmar. Yet the love Janner displays toward his siblings doesn’t come across as false, because even as he seeks to act rightly, he experiences natural human responses of resentment, frustration, and anger. No perfect characters exist in life or in this story, only flawed people beginning to grow and mature.

Not only does Monster in the Hollows display strong sibling ties, the relationships between the children and their mother Nia, grandfather Podo, and uncle Artham all depict important elements of familial love without neglecting the challenges. But perhaps what this tale conveys most strongly is the power of sacrificial love.

True love requires a willingness to sacrifice, even for the seemingly undeserving. We see it with Janner taking up the burden of Kalmar’s protection and with Nia willing to pledge her life on her unpredictable son. Without giving spoilers, I can’t say more, but the sacrificial love demonstrated by many of the characters, especially toward others in their family, infuse the story with beauty.

These bonds between family members spark great deeds of heroism which deepen the impact of the story. The book opens with Janner bearing the wounds given him by his brother, and it closes with one of the most touching scenes of family devotion I’ve ever read. Lest I spoil the story, I’ll say no more about the conclusion, save that almost everyone I know who read it has wept, adult and teen alike.

In a time where most books neglect family devotion in favor of friction or hatred between family members or ignore the ties of familial love in favor of romance, The Monster in the Hollows shines as a story about true love in its many forms.

Through the context of the tale, we’re privileged to see what family truly means. And that’s powerful.

If you want to see what others thought of this story, visit the tour stops below:



  • Rebecca LuElla Miller
    September 20, 2011 - 4:23 pm · Reply

    An excellent post, Sarah. I think you’ve highlighted one of the great strengths of this series, and I’m with you — it is so good to see positive family relationships modeled, warts and all.

    But I guess I’ll be the first … I didn’t cry in the end. Someone else said they cried (in two places, if I remember correctly) and my thought was, Really? I’m guessing I know when you cried, but at that point something (not giving spoilers either) had taken me out of the fictive dream, so I wasn’t emotionally invested at that point.


    • Sarah Sawyer
      September 22, 2011 - 4:31 pm · Reply

      Thanks, Becky! Now I’m curious about what pulled you out of the fictive dream. It’s been several months since I’ve read the book, so I can’t even hazard a guess. 🙂

      While I didn’t experience the broken fictive dream with Monster in the Hollows (obviously), it’s happened to me many times before and unfortunately, it can make powerful moments fall rather flat.

  • Timothy Hicks
    September 20, 2011 - 10:21 pm · Reply

    Nice point about family values playing an important part of the series. There is also the Prodigal Son parable story angle. Kalmar made a bad choice in the previous book by trying to take the easy way out. Book three opens with Janner suffering from Kalmar’s attack. Now that Kalmar has returned and is repentant, Janner feels put it. Like the parable eldest son, elder son Janner feels put out because of his obligations to Kalmar. The Maker cares for both boys and wants the best for each. Like the father of the prodigal son, the Maker welcomes us when we return to him.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      September 22, 2011 - 4:31 pm · Reply

      I never thought of the story in connection with the Prodigal Son parable, but that does fit well. And the way Monster in the Hollows handles it makes you sympathize with the plight of both boys, which gives such a good perspective on how God sees us, understanding our weaknesses and exercising mercy and compassion. Thanks for adding your thoughts, Timothy!

  • Rachel Starr Thomson
    September 21, 2011 - 2:57 pm · Reply

    Well said, Sarah. To me, this has been one of the most outstanding qualities of the whole series. There’s one scene at the end of “North!” (I think–I just finished reading all three, so I couldn’t swear to which book it was in) that just describes the family welcoming one of their own back, and I struck me as just beautifully REAL. And it is so good to see a functional family in fiction!

    • Sarah Sawyer
      September 22, 2011 - 4:32 pm · Reply

      Thanks, Rachel! I agree the series as a whole does a fantastic job of depicting a strong yet realistic family in a way beautiful to behold. I look forward to being able to share it with my own children one day. 🙂

  • Gillian Adams
    September 23, 2011 - 12:18 am · Reply


    A wonderful post! The strong family ties in this series was one of my favorite aspects. I love that both Nia and Podo are portrayed as strong positive characters. So many novels about children tend to throw adult authority into a bad light. And the selfless love depicted so clearly throughout the book was such a beautiful reminder of Christ’s love for us and the love that we should have for others!

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