Patrick Ness is fairly new to me, but not to the YA community.
A Monster Calls is an illustrated novel, “from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd”, with a 12 year-old protagonist named Conor.
Despite being aimed at the 10-16 market (or thereabouts), holy crap did it give me a punch in the gut.
The story follows our tense but well-meaning protagonist whilst his mother lives with terminal cancer. Though he flourishes in his mother’s company, her health deteriorates and he is visited by nightmares and a monster in the form of a yew tree.
Having only read one other novel about the teen’s experience of living with cancer (the other being John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, from the point-of-view of a cancer sufferer), I was struck by Ness’ delicate handling and reverence of the experience. Although I haven’t read the likes of Her Sister’s Keeper and other books which seem to be more soap opera than serious literary fiction, A Monster Calls exists not to create drama out of illness but to ride the waves of emotional turmoil. He creates a world that feels real and engaging rather than outside of the character’s mind – even though much of it is or seems like an ongoing nightmare.
On a personal note, I can’t seem to read great Young Adult and children’s fiction without feeling like life did me a great disservice when I was a young teen. And when I say life I mean, primarily, my English teachers hammering at me and at my parents that I should be reading books more “challenging” than Harry Potter and Jacqueline Wilson and the like without ever offering up something interesting and progressive in their place. Even the library wouldn’t let me shop the teen section until I was 15, by which point I’d lost interest.
Young Adult fiction is having a Golden Age and while I don’t feel I’m entirely too old to enjoy it, I wish it had come a little bit sooner. I hope the kids who have it enjoy it so as I can stop being completely and utterly selfish about the matter.
In the meantime, I’m going to get stuck into The Knife of Never Letting Go – the first book in Ness’ Chaos Walking series.
Book #39: ★★★★★
Check out capsule reviews of everything I’ve read this year on the 52 Books page. You can also friend me on Goodreads.