Monday, August 15, 2011

Review: A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls
Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd
2011; Candlewick; ISBN 978-0-7636-5559-4 (hardcover)

Summary:  Late one night, Conor sees a nearby yew tree transform itself into a monster.  It's huge, with scratchy bark and pointy leaves.  But Conor's not afraid of the monster, because he's been expecting a much worse one.  His mother has cancer, and she seems to be sicker as each day passes.  Everyone at school knows about his mum's illness, making him invisible--except to his old friend Lily and Harry the bully.  So Conor's not that scared of the monster, and the monster sees that.  The monster has come because Conor called for him, and he will tell Conor four stories.  Then, Conor will have to tell the monster his own story, a story that's true.  Finding the truth will be a struggle for Conor, though.

Examining issues of love, loss and truth, A Monster Calls is a collaboration between Patrick Ness and the late Siobhan Dowd.  Taking the characters and premise created by Dowd, Ness has crafted a moving, honest story about a boy learning the first lessons of manhood.  The monster is capricious, logical and cold, contrasted with Conor's emotional, passionate nature.  As Conor hears the monster's stories and watches his mother's condition deteriorate, the tension slowly increases to the heartbreaking yet hopeful conclusion.  The story is made even richer by vivid black and white illustrations by Jim Kay.  It's a shame that Siobhan Dowd could not write this story, but how fortunate we are that Patrick Ness was willing to take on this task and create a fitting memorial in A Monster Calls.

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