Thursday, 30 June 2011

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness (from a sketch left by Siobhan Dowd)

Another book brought to my attention by fellow blogger Lovely Treez Reads.  It's rare that I buy hardbacks, but this one is going to be a birthday present, so it had to be the fully monty.  And of course, I had to read it first (carefully!) before it was packed.

Conor is a boy whose mother has cancer. (is this a book for children?  Yes it is, keep reading!).  He has a recurring nightmare every night; and spends his days getting his own breakfast, being bullied at school, and worrying about his Mum.  She is on her third or fourth round of chemo, and is getting weaker.  Conor knows she will recover, she always has. 
Then why, just after midnight, does the yew tree in the churchyard up sticks and walk into his garden, and peer in through his window?  He's not asleep - God! he only just woke up from the nightmare, and here is another.  The yew tree has stories to tell.  He is part of the old ways, the green man, the earth itself, and he will tell Conor four stories on the proviso that at the end, Conor will tell him a story, which must contain THE TRUTH.  Conor's grandmother arrives at the house, and it is obvious that she wants Conor to live with her, a move that cannot be contemplated - her antique filled, cold and tidy house is not like his home at all.  And then when he hears his Dad is coming over from America, where he now lives with a new wife, Conor wonders if he will take him back with him.  And regularly, the yew tree arrives for a little chat........

When I first started to read this book, I was unsure whether I was going to rate this book as highly as others, but by the time I had finished, I knew it was a special kind of book.  The truth is a powerful thing, and in Conor's nightmare, there is something that he cannot speak of, even to the yew tree.  But that truth must be spoken of, and in the telling of his own story, he must find the words.   Ultimately this book explains how Conor deals with grief - how might we deal with the same thing?  And yes, it is a book for older children, for young adults, for those of any age who love to read something different.  The book was based on a sketch of the story by Siobhan Dowd, who was suffering from cancer and could not get the book written.  She was posthumously awarded the Carnegie Medal for one of her four books; and Patrick Ness, who took up her idea and made it into this story, has just been awarded the Carnegie Medal for this year for the third in a trilogy of YA books.  Illustrated entirely in black and white by Jim Kay, who brings the darkness necessary onto the pages.