Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Monsters We Make

A Monster Calls
by Patrick Ness

Thirteen year-old Conor's mother is dying from cancer, though neither he nor his mum will admit this. His grades in school are slipping, but the teachers give him a pass, ignoring him for the most part, as do the other students, with the exception of a few bullies. His father is in America with a new wife and baby, and his uppity grandmother is coming to stay with them. Conor wonders how his life could possibly get any worse.

Haunted by nightmares each night, Conor isn't terribly surprised when a yew tree in his yard springs to life and threatens to devour him if Conor doesn't tell him his own story after the yew tree finishes telling three of his own. Suspecting it's a dream at first, Conor awakes the next morning to find piles of leaves and berries scattered on the floor of his bedroom.

Mr. Ness is a fabulous writer, and here he shows that he is just as capable of writing a compelling story for middle grade readers as he is for teens. Each of the monster's stories parallels an event in Conor's life, though the outcome of each tale is often far different from what he (and readers) might expect. More sophisticated readers will pick up on the extended metaphor represented by the monster sooner than the final reveal, yet that doesn't weaken the story, as Mr. Ness crafts a very emotional climax.

Accompanying the story, which was written from an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd, are brilliant illustrations by Jim Kay, who manages to capture the emotions of the book perfectly.

I honestly cannot recommend this book enough. I have difficulty empathizing with real people, let alone fictional ones, but the writing here is just so good that even I had my heart wrenched by the end. I will be shocked if this isn't at least short-listed for the Newbery this year.

Grade: A+

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