This is basically the backstory of one of the main protagonists from We Are All Completely Fine, though its tone is entirely different, being more of a young adult story about the first adventure of the monster detective aka Harrison Harrison. Already knowing the rough outline of his story from WAACF, I was expecting to see the full story here, but in that regard I was slightly disappointed as it’s only the first part of that.
On the other hand, what is there, is really great: the characters, both Harrison himself, who at this point in his career is much more vulnerable (emotionally as well as literally, as he’s just a teen here), and the others. His flawed, but enthusiastic and very human aunt Sel, the young dweller from the deep and comic and manga connoisseur Lub, his not-girl-friend Lydia who leads a teenage resistant against the cult in her town and a few others.
The villains are also magnificently drawn: the dragon trope in the form of the Scrimshander, the boss aka the toad mother, and the various cult members of the adult population of Dunnsmouth (yeah, the Lovecraft one). It hits a lot of the usual notes of young adult fiction, the overbearing presence of school as both a place of friendship as well as of menace, the uselessness of most adults, if not their position as a downright threatening force.
This could have easily slid down into depressive territory, if Harrison himself wasn’t so much a force of nature in terms of personality: he never gives up, never loses hope in finding his mother and keeps the story going and bearable by pure force of will and the reader will follow him anywhere. He’s compelling without being perfect, which sort of makes him perfect.