Review: In The Skin of a Monster by Kathryn Barker

Monday, 24 August 2015

25380845In The Skin of a Monster by Kathryn Barker
Released: 1st August 2015
Published by: Allen and Unwin
Genre: YA Contemporary/Speculative Fiction
Source: Publisher
Pages: 344
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Goodreads | Bookworld | Booktopia
What if your identical twin sister was a murderer? Does that make you a monster too?

A profound, intense, heartbreaking fantasy that tackles issues of fate versus free will, and whether you can ever truly know someone. Caught in a dreamscape, mistaken for a killer ... will Alice find a way home?

Three years ago, Alice's identical twin sister took a gun to school and killed seven innocent kids; now Alice wears the same face as a monster. She's struggling with her identity, and with life in the small Australian town where everyone was touched by the tragedy. Just as Alice thinks things can't get much worse, she encounters her sister on a deserted highway. But all is not what it seems, and Alice soon discovers that she has stepped into a different reality, a dream world, where she's trapped with the nightmares of everyone in the community.

Here Alice is forced to confront the true impact of everything that happened the day her twin sister took a gun to school ... and to reveal her own secret to the boy who hates her most. 
Thank you to Allen and Unwin for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

In The Skin of a Monster is one of the most provoking and poignant reads I've come across this year. It artfully converges both the real and surreal in a creative way which makes the content that much more powerful. Though the main character's name is Alice - she doesn't discover a 'wonderland' - in fact the lucid dreamscape she enters is quite the opposite. Once I started reading I began to realise that there was a level of complexity to this story that you can't pick from the outset, making this a truly multifaceted novel that stands proud as a piece of Aussie YA. 

What was your last feeling before you pulled the trigger? Were you pleased or horrified? Did you feel like a monster? Was pain the last thing you felt in life? And if so, how long had it been going for?

This book struck me from the very first pages as something which I knew would pull me into the pages. The narrative voices from Alice and Lux are both so distinct and engrossing. From the outset I found it fascinating that Alice wasn't simply 'narrating' the story in her parts, but actually telling this as if it was to her twin sister who carried out the shooting. This story doesn't shy away from the more gritty side of humanity - in both our realm and the metaphysical one on the edge of our imaginations. 

The world doesn't revolve around one disturbed girl, no matter how low she sank to make an impression. Life is more than that. It's blissful and rubbish and crappy and kind and infinite worlds of emotion. And you know what? So are people.

The aftermath of one tragedy is something which changes people and has such far-reaching ramifications. I've read books that deal with the topic of a school shooting before (And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard) among others, but never have I come across one which has as much depth as this. Not only is the cast of characters certainly a unique one (when you read it, you'll see what I mean), but even the setting is constructed with a meaning. Though I think it's best to read this in a shorter span of time to truly get your head around how everything fits together, it certainly packs a punch when you realise the truth. Kathryn Barker has provided insight into the minds of these characters who are dealing with moving on from this, but also making peace within themselves. It's a journey which isn't easy - but I loved how outstandingly it was executed. The ending wasn't rushed at all, but provided a fitting conclusion to a story which has some profound messages encapsulated in the experiences of the characters.


Australian YA has long been known as a genre which presents characters and tough situations with almost brutal honesty. In The Skin of a Monster is a shining example of a stunning debut which definitely has me looking forward to reading whatever Kathryn Barker writes next!


  1. I really, really, really hope this comes out in the US soon Eugenia because your review has me hooked! I absolutely love the concept and the way you've described the depth that the novel has. Definitely going to have to give this a try - thank you for sharing this wonderful review and putting it under my radar! ♥

    1. I really hope it does too Zoe so you have the opportunity to read it! It really has that wow factor :)

  2. I'll need to dash to a bookstore and look for this one ASAP as it sound so raw and difficult, which are some of the top things I look for in contemporary. Glad to hear that the book has an ending worthy of the book's weighty message and plot as well. Fantastic review, Eugenia!

    1. It certainly does possess those qualities - and the fact that the message was delivered well definitely made me like it that much more. Thanks Aentee! :)

  3. This reminds me of a book I'd only just reviewed today, Damage Done. Non identical twins, one takes a gun to school as well. But this sounds as though it's far more complex, deliciously so. I'm utterly fascinated by the twin bond, and sibling dynamics, in which this pushes those boundaries. A true thriller. Thanks for the phenomenal review, definitely grabbing a copy of this <3

    1. That's interesting that there's a book similar - I haven't head of Damage Done before but will definitely check out your review! The twin bond is a unique one in this case, and I love how complex it was. Thanks for stopping by Kell :)

  4. This sounds a bit heavy for me. The one topic that freaks me out is gun violence, it makes me so uncomfortable - perhaps because it's just such a real threat? I am still quite intrigued though, your review has made sure of that! I think this will go on my maybe list :)

    - Wattle @ Whimsical Nature

    1. It's definitely a serious topic, though in the book it is handled quite tactfully and realistically too. I can see what you mean though, I guess it would come down to seeing for yourself if you'd like it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Wattle :)

  5. This. Book. Sounds. Incredible.

    Holy shoot. I kind of think I need this book in my life. I love books that aren't afraid to dig deep and tackle the heavy themes and topics that are sometimes skimmed over instead. Seriously, this book...holy shoot, I need it. Absolutely fabulous review, Eugenia! You've convinced me to give this one a go (as soon as my wallet agrees with me).

    1. I'm glad to hear I've convinced you Rae! It really is something totally unique and gripping, I do hope you love it as much as I did :D


Feel free to leave a comment below - I love reading them!