Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness

Still trying to catch up on my book reviews...this was my July book club selection.

Patrick Ness and Jim Kay collaborated on this illustrated novel based on an idea by novelist Siobhan Dowd, who died of breast cancer. As Ness said in his author's note, "She had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn't have, unfortunately, was time."

A Monster Calls refers to the visits in young Conor's bedroom. Conor's mother is battling cancer, and as he and his family members struggle to adjust to her worsening condition, a huge yew tree outside of his bedroom comes to life and tells him a series of stories. "Stories are wild creatures," the monster said. "When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?"

The monster is the only creature who's listening to Conor and speaking to him honestly. His father arrives from the U.S. for an incredibly brief visit and has created a new family where Conor doesn't have a place, and his parents skirt around the fact that his mother is dying. He's sent to stay with his grandmother, who is overly strict and controlling and doesn't seem to appreciate him. His classmates either bully him or pity him because of his sick mom. The monster's the only one who understands the fear and rage inside of his head.

My book group debated whether the monster was real or if it was all in Conor's head. I disagreed with a few others; I believe the monster was real. This is, after all, a young adult fantasy novel. The monster teaches Conor things no one else could. And helps him get in touch with feelings that he didn't know he had. We had an interesting conversation about the way our culture handles illness and dying, both in the U.S. and the UK, where the novel is based. People in the UK are much more likely to tamp down feelings and suppress them, and therapy is often not considered to be necessary. Stiff upper lip and all that!

A Monster Calls is a beautiful tale of loss and love. 

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