Nightmare Detective: The Skeleton King by first-time author Monk Inyang, is a fast-paced and fun read that addresses both fighting fears (real and imagined) and strengthening confidence in young people. The novel’s main character, 12-year old Uko Hill, a Black boy living in Newark, NJ, has a loving family, a close-knit group of friends, and a vivid dream life. What he needs to do is shake off his self-doubt and develop self-confidence and a strong sense of independence — much like most tweens.
In his adventures, he fights dream-monsters in his own nightmares as well as in others’. Sometimes he fails, sometimes he’s successful. And through the guidance of his Nightmare Detective mentor, Uko works towards becoming a talented Detective on his own terms. I found this novel entertaining and creative in its approach to real-life problems young people face, even as it infused fantasy elements throughout.
Uko is a fully-fleshed out and believable character, and his mentor Toni has details and personality added in an organic and believable way. Peripheral characters, like Uko’s brother and best friends, are also not neglected as each serves a distinct purpose as the story progresses. The terrifyingly charismatic Chief and Uko’s personal dream-monster The Skeleton King are both worthy antagonists as well.
Monk Inyang’s approach to childhood insecurities and challenges is creative and effective. And as in many middle-grade novels, the tweens deal with both everyday events and deeply troubling problems. Readers will relate to Uko, Toni, and the other characters in both actions and dialogue. Nightmare Detective: The Skeleton King is recommended for ages 10-14.