Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Review: A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness (Candlewick, 2011)

Recommended for ages 11-13

A Monster Calls is one of those books that will tear your heart out while you're reading it, but when you're done, you're glad that you went through the experience. It's that good.

Conor is a 13-year old boy who lives in Britain with his single mother, has a strained relationship with his father, who has his own life and new family in the States, and is bullied at school. His mother is fighting a battle with cancer, and losing. Around this time, Conor starts receiving visits every night, just after midnight, from a monster in the guise of a yew tree in his backyard. The monster tells him stories - truths - whose outcomes really play with perspective, and he tells Conor that the fourth story will be Conor's, telling the monster his own truth. It's a truth that Conor doesn't want to think about, but that gives him nightmares every night.
The story, originally an idea by author Siobhan Dowd, whose own life was cut short by cancer, is gorgeously written. Ness' words bring the reader right into Conor's fear, grief and anger at his mother's battle, his grandmother's fussiness, his father's distance, and the numbness he feels as he endures the bullies at school. When the monster allows Conor's rage an outlet, the reader feels it, viscerally. Jim Kay's stark black and white illustations add to the moody feeling of Ness' prose.

A Monster Calls has been shortlisted for several awards including the Galaxy British National Book Award, the Red House Children's Book Award, and the Cybils Award in Middle Grade Fantasy. The author's website features his blog, an FAQ, and information about his books and events.

No comments: