Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Review: A Monster Calls

My neighborhood has been saddened by the passing of one of our own due to cancer. It prompts me to offer up this remarkable independent reader/young adult title for anyone who has children grappling with the  emotional fallout of such a tragedy. The novella also has deep resonance with adults. The unflinching honesty of the author's perspective and the mythic metaphor used leaves us no where for repressed emotions to hide. Out in the open air our emotional wounds can heal. Repressed inside they fester. This book is about being brave enough to heal what remains.

(Walker Books)
by Patrick Ness 
inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd
illustrated by Jim Kay
(trade paperback)  

“You do not write your life with words...You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.” 

This is dark fiction at its best, the marriage of terrifying imagery with the true fears of the flesh. Grown from an outline by cancer victim and fellow Carneige Medal winner Siobhan Dowd, Patrick Ness weaves a gentle tale of a young teen's journey through his guilt, anger and sorrow as he comes to terms with the real monster in the room, his mother's advancing cancer. 
The monster, the towering green man comes to intrude on the boy's living nightmare insisting on sharing tales with twisted morality in hopes of saving the boy from his own collapse. All the boy needs to do is tell the truth
The monstrous visitor is a wicked, fearful and, yes, funny sage as intent in his mission as he is with destruction. His manifestation allows young Conor to get out of his head and confront himself. What's better when you feel like a monster yourself than to have him hound you in the flesh (or in this case, in the twig).
The book is for all ages so don't let the fact that it is illustrated give you the wrong impression. Jim Kay's work is manic and organic, a wash of grey shadows, images as equally fascinating as they are menacing; a perfect backdrop.
Death, however it is doled out is what links man to man. How we deal with the looming figure and the fallout after it touches our lives is our truth. There are no words for its power over us... or so I thought. With its macabre visitor this book forces us to confront these moments in our lives with more emotional clout than a heartbreaking memoir ever could. Only by having the shadows of our darker, quiet moments actually speak to us, for us, could these authors speak to our battered souls.
Share this book with any family touched by this relentless disease. Everybody knows one or lives in one. This novel is a new classic sure to be a perennial favorite on young adult shelves for lifetimes to come.
THINK: Animated combination of Ness' artwork with image capture directed by Rob Reiner, ghost written by all remembered by a pink ribbon.