05 December 2011

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls
Patrick Ness
(inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd)
Candlewick Press
First off, let me say that usually, I don’t do scary.  I’m the girl that has night terrors and is truly afraid of things that go bump in the night.  When I do read scary books, I usually only read them during daylight hours, and they usually have a pretty profound effect on me – especially on my ability to sleep.  When A Monster Calls came across my desk, I knew the book would have an effect on me, I just didn’t realize how much of an effect.  And…spoiler alert…it’s actually NOT scary.
A Monster Calls is about Connor, whose father has moved to America and has a whole new family, whose grandmother is hard-working and pretty cold toward him, and whose mother is battling cancer.  Connor has suffered from a terrible nightmare for months – his mother falling off a cliff being consumed by a monster.  When another monster appears at his window one night, he isn’t scared.  This monster has not come for his mother, it’s come for him.  The monster will tell Connor three tales, and then Connor must tell him a tale – the only truth Connor knows.  But Connor isn’t sure he can tell the only truth he knows.
Throughout the book Connor tries to convince himself that the monster is just a dream – I mean really, it’s a talking tree!  But as his mother gets worse, and things at school get worse, the monster continues to visit him, tell him stories and have a profound effect on him.
I don’t want to tell you much about the book, because I think part of the reason it affected me as much as it did is because I didn’t know much about the storyline.  I will say that the book really isn’t about monsters.  It’s about coping with grief and loss.  Patrick Ness has done a superb job of creating a new way of viewing the human condition and what is “unfair” in life.
What I will tell you about the book is that while it was written by Ness, the idea came from another great writer – Siobhan Dowd. She has written several excellent novels which I can’t keep on my shelf, and in 2007 she lost her battle with breast cancer.  Last night as I finished the book, I couldn’t help but think about her and her battle.  Did this idea come from her difficulty in dealing with her mortality?  I also kept thinking about a conversation I recently had with my dear friend Katy– is it easier to deal with loss when it’s sudden or when it is a slow process?  In the end, we realized that loss is difficult regardless of when and how it happens, but the most important part of loss is dealing with it.  I hope I never have to deal with loss similar to Connor’s (I’m hoping beyond all hope that my parents are actually immortal…), I’ve learned a lesson from Connor’s story – speaking the truth is the only way to truly deal with loss.
I would recommend this book to just about anyone – unless they’re looking for a traditional “horror” book.  The illustrations (by Jim Kay) are haunting, but the book really isn’t about monsters in the traditional sense.  This book really is about as close to realistic fiction without actually being realistic fiction as humanly possible.  This book is heart-wrenching, deep and thoughtful.  So if you’re looking for funny, don’t pick this one up.  But if you want a book that will make you think about truth, the human condition and the tough stuff in life, I highly, highly recommend this book.  And yes, I cried (shocker).

Here's an article/review written by Jessica Bruder, a woman who knew Dowd well: It Takes a Monster to Learn How to Grieve

Another great review from Stackedbooks.org

Here's an article written by a 17-old-student here in GJ. Genrefluent's Bistro Book Club - Teens Talk About Books

Here's a link to Siobhan Dowd's website The Siobhan Dowd Trust

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