Friday, October 19, 2012

A Monster Calls

This book is about a pre-teen boy whose mom is dying from cancer. It took me over a year to work up the guts to read this book. In fact, I think this is the last time I wrote about it... in my posted titled "Motherhood Changes Reading." I was scared to death of this book.

And rightly so. It is a tearjerker. It ravaged my heart.

A blurb: The story opens with 13-year-old Conor waking from the same nightmare he has been experiencing for the past few months, "the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming". At seven minutes after midnight (12:07), a voice calls to him from outside his bedroom window, which overlooks an old church and its graveyard and is sheltered by ayew tree. Walking to the window, Conor meets the monster, a towering mass of branches and leaves in human shape. The monster insists that Conor summoned it, and that it will help Conor by telling him three short stories. In exchange Conor must tell his own story afterward—his recurring nightmare. If Conor does not tell, the monster will kill him. (Shamelessly borrowed from Wikipedia.)

This is one of those books that's really hard to write about because it's multi-faceted, and it's complicated, and it deals with some really nebulous emotions. On the surface, Conor is angry. He's blase at times. He's falsely optimistic. He's yearning to be punished when he acts out. He's just trying to be seen. On the other hand, he's broken. He's miserable and lonely. He's a mess of emotions. He's a mess of actions -- as any young (or older) person would be in the face of such a devastating and impending loss. 

What Ness does so well here is to bring some guidance and some outlet for Conor through the "monster." Oft-called the Green Man, he's a force of nature, old as the world, and he understands the power and healing in stories. The stories he tells Conor are tales the boy finds maddening in their lack of sense. Their lack of happy ending. Their lack of convention. They're fairy tales that just don't work out quite right. Through the fantastic writing, all of these not-quite-right tales come together to teach Conor a vital lesson. 

I think it would be damn near impossible not to cry through at least portions of this book because even to an adult, these emotions are SO real. So spot-on in their contradictions. Ness perfectly paints the experience of maintaining hope in the face of hopelessness. Of the guilt that comes with realizing the facts and accepting them in the face of a loved one's demise. 

Conor is a great character. The monster is an unlikely teacher. The whole book is beautifully written and perfectly illustrated. 

So was it worth humming and hawing for over a year? Was it worth all the tears? Yes, I'd say so, absolutely. For such a well-written and truthful story is always worth it. And like Heather says, "It's a good kind of cry." 

Snuggle -- Skewer

Pub. Date: September 2011
Publisher: Candlewick
Format: Hardcover
ISBN-13: 9780763655594
Source: Library

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