Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review: "A Monster Calls" by Patrick Ness, based on an idea from Siobhan Dowd

Title: A Monster Calls
Author: Patrick Ness, from a story idea from Siobhan Dowd
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2011

Conor's mother is not dying. At least, that's what he tells himself, and what she tells him as well, despite her cancer that is making her waste away. Nothing is going right; he's being bullied at school, his extremely proper grandmother is starting to spend more and more time at his house, and he is having trouble coming to terms with all of this. But one night, at seven minutes past midnight, an ancient monster pays Conor a visit. What he wants is the truth.

This is a story about stories and truth—their power, and how they can be twisted, unexpected, or denied and hidden from view. The yew tree in Conor's back yard, one his mother always comments on, is actually a very ancient being who has seen much in its life. When he visits Conor, he asks for the truth, but also tells him a story each time. And each time, the story varies wildly from what Conor expects.

The stories help lead Conor to his own realizations, but it's much more than a coming-of-age story or the finding of oneself. Conor has to look deep within himself and admit a truth that he wants to bury under guilt and pain.

I love the stories, and the value the monster puts on them. I'm taking a storytelling class right now, and I know they have been a part of culture since humans could speak—yet, Ness veers off from the normal motifs and shows a side to human nature that I wasn't expecting, and one Conor definitely was not.

The illustrations by Jim Kay are absolutely brilliant. Haunting, richly textured black-and-white images creep up toward the words on the page until they completely take over in stunning double-page spreads. They perfectly complement the prose.

If you're a Patrick Ness fan, don't expect this to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller like his Chaos Walking trilogy. This is a much gentler and more subtle book, despite it's darkness and occasional violent emotions. It's a short book, but very rich and worth reading, especially if you're a story lover, which I think most of my readers are.

Siobhan Dowd's premature death made her unable to write this story herself, but we are lucky that Patrick Ness, an incredibly talented writer and someone I think is a gift to young adult literature, was able and willing to pick up the pen and write it for her.

By the way, as a coincidence (?) I started writing this review at seven minutes past midnight. Or maybe there are no accidents.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the publisher. Thanks!

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