Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jen's Pick: A Monster Calls

Hi there! My name is Jennifer, and I work with young adult books at the Charleston County Public Library. Welcome to my random thoughts about books for teens. If a book grabs your interest, click on the title to reserve a copy…or click here to search CCPL's e-books. Happy reading!

To appreciate this haunting new fictional story, you must know Siobhan Dowd’s real-life story. She was a human rights worker and a popular author. A Monster Calls would have been her fifth young adult novel. She’d created the idea, the characters and the novel’s beginning.

Yet, she died of cancer in 2007 at age 47, taking her artistic energies with her.

In stepped Patrick Ness, author of The Knife of Never Letting Go series. He had never met Dowd.

But he'd heard about her monster.

Ness embraced her story, infusing his own creative vision to give it a full life, with gut-gripping results.

He tells the story of 13-year-old Conor O’Malley in a choppy, disjointed third-person point of view that mirrors the confused emotions of a boy facing a terrifying reality: His mother's cancer is not responding to medication. One last treatment stands between her and death. To make it all worse, Conor’s father lives across the ocean immersed in his new family. That leaves Conor alone with his grandmother, an aloof figure with whom he shares little except the mutual fear of his mother's illness.

Then, the monster calls:

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.

Conor was awake when it came.

He’d had a nightmare. Well, not a nightmare. The nightmare. The one he’d been having a lot lately. The one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming. The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter how hard he tried to hold on. The one that always ended with –

The monster outside Conor's window is not the one from his nightmare, the one too terrifying to face. No, this new monster grows and morphs from an ancient yew tree in the center of a graveyard beyond Conor’s bedroom. It is terrifying. But it hasn’t come to terrify, at least not in the usual way.

This monster seeks truth – Conor’s truth.

I won't reveal what that truth is – or what the monster does to Conor – because you simply must read this book yourself. You'll be surprised. Like in real life, the truth is not easy, nor is it comfortable. But it will open your mind. It will help you understand the monsters of anger and death and what it feels like when nobody truly sees you.

I'm a word lover, always have been. Words convey images and ideas in a way that nothing else can, and Patrick Ness spins some serious word magic in this book. But illustrator Jim Kay’s macabre pen-and-ink drawings add a depth of imagery that words alone could not. Check them out.

Siobhan Dowd
I showed A Monster Calls to one of my favorite seventh graders with the hope that she’d love it. Instead, she thought it looked “weird.” Which it is. But she's also never met the monster, not yet at least, although life spares none of us the fear of losing those we love.

This book will have special meaning to anyone who has already known the darkness, who has met the monster. Pass it along to those who need to know that anger has a perfectly normal place in the storm of loss right alongside love and sorrow.

Then again, this book really is for everyone. It can help us all prepare for when the monster calls in our lives. Because he will.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Jen! I love this line, "anger has a perfectly normal place in the storm of loss right alongside love and sorrow." Good stuff.