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