Kelly Link's stories fit into the young adult category in the same way that Salman Rushdie's collection, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, does: sure, youngsters will love these stories, but grown-ups will love them more deeply, more permanently and with the full weight of experience. Link is the author of two short story collections for adults, Magic for Beginners and Stranger Things Happen, which have put her into the demi-pantheon of those who appreciate slightly dark experimental fiction. That the title story from Magic for Beginners is included in her new book, Pretty Monsters, shows how thin the line is between Kelly Link for kids and Kelly Link for adults.
The only thing that makes this collection YA is that most of its protagonists are teens. There's Miles, the boy who buried the only copy of his poems in the casket of his dead girlfriend and now regrets it; Jeremy, in the aforementioned "Magic for Beginners," whose parents are separating even as his favorite cult-TV show seems to be leaking into the real world (or is he in the real world?); and Genevieve, whose grandmother keeps an entire fairy village inside her furry dogskin purse. Link's monsters are scary but also funny. In "Monster," boys at summer camp become snacks for a hungry beast who uses a cell phone. ("No way," one of the boys says. "That's stupid. How would the monster know Terence's cell phone number?").
After eating the other campers, the monster stops for some witty banter with the leftover boy, James, and makes fun of him just like everybody else always has. ("I've never seen anything as funny as you," it tells him. But more than her oddball characters and wacked-out plotlines, what makes these stories haunting is Link's disinclination to resolve them in any ordinary way. Many of them end mid-chase, or immediately before some cataclysmic event that will change everything. The story stops, and the imagination takes over. These are perfect bedtime stories for people who never want to have boring dreams.