Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness

Back when this book was released in the UK, Ana from Things Mean Alot reviewed "A Monster Calls".  If you read the review, I'm certain it went directly to your list of books that must be read before you die, because Ana was pretty persuasive.  She said it "shattered her", and that the book was "restrained" but "perceptive and emotionally genuine".  I wasn't really prepared to pay for shipping from the UK, so I waited.  I knew the book would throw itself at me eventually.

And it did, at SIBA11.  There were ARCs available there, and I snagged one, all the while giggling.  The representative for the publisher, Candlewick Press, stepped in and warned me "now please understand, this is not a happy read".  I knew that, but I'd been waiting for this book for four months, and that was worth celebrating.

Synopsis:  Thirteen year-old Connor O'Malley has had better years.  He is bullied at school (or worse ignored), his father left for the US with a younger woman, his mother is fighting a battle against cancer, and he suffers from terrifying nightmares that he can't discuss with anyone.  One night, an old yew tree from across the field comes to life in the form of a monster and visits him.

  



Over a period of several nights, the monster comes to visit and tells Connor three stories, all very disturbing and dubious in message.  While it is obvious that the stories have lessons attached, these aren't your standard fables, but ones where there is little distinction between right and wrong, good and evil.  What is the monster's purpose?  What does he represent?  Only a monster, terrifying and powerful, can help Connor navigate his way through the landmines of his life, understand the complexities of relationships, and come to terms with human mortality.



My thoughts:  I've been sitting and looking at the phrase "my thoughts" for two days now, and I still don't know what to say, but I have to get on with it.  This story is life in its most simplest form.  Friendship, struggles, loss, and growing up.  I suppose we've seen it hundreds of times in stories, but never quite so pure or organic. 

The monster is ancient and terrifying, but with a higher purpose that the reader must admire and is strangely drawn towards.  The monster is wise.  The monster is an unyielding force.  The monster will not be ignored. 

I must repeat Ana and tell you that this story IS devastating.  A 13 year-old, perched at the brink of adulthood but still with childhood insecurities, is such a fragile human being.  To see one such boy attempting to cope with a life-altering loss is something that threatened to take away my breath.  This is not the first time I've read about the reaction of teenagers to a sick parent...the acting out, the anger, the alienation...as a mother I can't even imagine such a situation.  It is inevitable that each reader is going to imagine themselves somewhere in this scenario, even though it is so uncomfortable to comprehend.

But despite the dire topic, the story is never cloying or hokey.  It sneaks up on you in its simplicity, it comes around through the back door to deliver the goods.  So beware, and keep the tissues at hand, no matter how strong you may feel. 





The ultimate bittersweet beauty of the thing are the illustrations, which as you can see, are stunning.  Jim Kay, the illustrator, has managed to harness all of these troubling and terrifying emotions and bring them to life.  Even the pictures are bound to make you cry.

Often we are not inclined to reach out for a book we know will make us sad, but I would implore you to make an exception.  Everyone has lost someone close to them, and this book I believe can make a difference in the healing.  The book is relatively short and can be read in a couple of hours.  Just plan ahead and set aside the time.  I think you'll be glad you did.

5 out of 5 stars 

20 comments:

Nymeth said...

Beautiful review, Sandy. I'm so glad you loved it as much as I did!

Julie P. said...

Superb review. Now I need to get my hands on a copy!

bermudaonion said...

Wow, your review just blew me away. This book is near the top of my TBR, but I'm wondering if I'm strong enough to handle it.

farmlanebooks said...

I haven't heard of this one before, but I love the sound of it. Those illustrations are so powerful on their own - combined with emotional text I can imagine it being amazing. Thank you for drawing it to my attention.

Beth F said...

Must track down a copy NOW.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I loved the pictures also.

Jenny said...

I would likely have never picked this book up, but now I'm very curious and plan on checking it out!

raych said...

AIEEEEEEEEE LE SOB!

Carry on.

C.B. James said...

I believe I saw this book in a store somewhere. I'll have to give it a second look. Thanks for a terrific review.

Ti said...

My little book feelers have been picking this one up for quite some time but I never really knew what it was about. I LOVED the illustrations that I've seen but figured it was a kid's book.

Oh woman...I need to get more shelving because of you.

BTW..what chapter are you in Unbroken? I am at chapter 33 now.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I've seen this one every where lately. It looks like something I'd love.

Zibilee said...

I am also stalling on writing my review, because what can you say about this book that will ever do it justice? It is so raw and powerful, and my heart was in tatters as I read about Conor. I loved the message that this book delivered, and the way it delivered it. Such a visceral and stunning read. Your review captured my feelings exactly. Very perceptive review. Thanks!

Kathleen said...

This sounds like something so powerful and reminds me of the graphic novel I Kill Giants. This is already on my list and I can't wait to read it.

Jennifer | Book Den said...

I never cry when I'm reading, but I did with A Monster Calls. It was heart-shattering, but such an awesome read.

Amy said...

What a fantastic review, Sandy. I'm definitely going to read this book...and Ana's review, too!

Melody said...

Great review, Sandy! I loved this book too; it's definitely a keeper!!!

Alyce said...

I have been avoiding this one even though everyone says it's so good, and my reason has been because I know it's supposed to be so sad. I will have to read it sometime though - I just don't know when.

caite said...

{{if she mentions a book she got at SIBA one more time...}}

5 out of 5...how can I argue with that?
Creepy cover.

Trisha said...

An awesome review for an awesome book!

Alice Teh said...

I got it on Kindle and will get on with it very soon. I was contemplating the book version at the bookstore but decided to opt for Kindle. I've heard so many good things and there's no way I'm missing out on it.