Sunday, May 27, 2012

YA Book Review: A Monster Calls

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Monster is metaphor. Monster is metaphor for cancer.

Monster is metaphor for the fear and sadness haunting those who watch loved ones slip away--for coming to terms with loss.

Monster is metaphor for the truth.

In A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, a yew tree visits an adolescent boy at midnight. In the spirit of A Christmas Carol, this monster comes to tell the boy three stories so that afterwards the boy can tell the monster his own story--a true story. A very hard to admit story. A story built on words so awfully difficult to say--what he can't bring himself to say to his dying mother: "I don't want you to go."

I need to take a step back and put the book into context--Ness wrote the book for author Siobhan Down, who lost her bought with cancer in 2007. A Monster Calls was inspired from notes she compiled for a fifth book. As Ness shares in the Author's Note, "This would have been her fifth book. She had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn't have unfortunately, was time."

Additionally, the illustrations by Jim Kay enhance the jagged darkness of the tale. A combined effect of etchings, wood cuttings, and collages, they strike me as cross between Jackson Pollack meets Andrew Wyeth meets Lynd Ward.

A wave of YA literature had been tackling heavy issues--issues that consume the curiosity of some adolescents. A Monster Calls deals with the stomach-wrenching reality of losing a loved one to cancer so respectfully and plainly, that this should be thought of as healthy read.

Literature is often the way into difficult topics--the great leveler when we do not have the words ourselves. I think of music as the place where so many people, particularly teens, turn for moments of shared heartache, joy, loss, etc. How often did we, as teens, sit alone in our rooms singing lyrics, following the lyrics on an album jacket or CD cover? YA has been bravely taking on that mantle as well in the unique way that only literature can provide--this novel continues that impressive and welcome trend.

A superb piece of art, and a sensitive approach to encouraging conversation with adolescents about one aspect of our humanity, I strongly recommend A Monster Calls for your classroom library.

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