Oh my gosh, let me wipe the mascara from beneath my eyes before I begin.
Yes, if you read this book, there will be tears. It is, indeed, profoundly moving.
A boy named Conor struggles with the complicated and powerful feelings. His mother’s undergoing treatments for a serious illness (probably cancer). His father’s absent, his only school friend betrayed him, and the kids at school mostly act as though he’s contagious (except the polished bully, Harry, and Harry’s two cronies). Even the teachers treat him differently, and he and his posh Grandma (with whom he must live while his Mum’s at the hospital) don’t exactly get along. Conor is alone in his grief, unable to process how everyone else can carry on with life as though nothing was wrong. His days blur in a shrouded, gray loneliness until, at 12:07AM, a yew tree becomes a monster who comes for a call. The monster tells Conor three stories and demands a fourth from the boy, a story that may save the boy’s life.
Stories, the boy wonders. Why, when there are so many important things to deal with, would this ancient being with more names than there are years to time itself tell stories, and why would it need Conor’s? “Stories are the wildest things of all,” the monster rumbled.
Facing the mortality of a loved one is life-altering for anyone. For a child, especially if the death is of a parent, the experience is a monster.
A Monster Calls is beautifully written. It pulls the readers in and holds them in a strangle hold of emotion. It shows “there is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.” and “Many things that are true feel like a cheat.” Most of all, it shows how complicated and important it is to tell the truth. The deep-down, personal truth.
My copy was illustrated by Jim Kay in atmospheric black-and-white. Patrick Ness and the publishers at Candlewick Press drew inspiration for the book from Siobhan Dowd’s original four books. There’s a heart-felt introduction by Patrick Ness explaining Dowd’s quartet of superb books. She intended to write the fifth, but she died before she could. “…the thing about good ideas is they grow other ideas,” said Ness, and so he took up the challenge to complete the series.
I’ve not yet read those first books by Siobhan Dowd, but I intend to, and I will read more by Patrick Ness. I’ll be forewarned, however, to keep tissues on hand.