My colleague, the YA librarian at my library, and I are deep in the throes of reading books for Mock Newbery and Mock Printz meetings – and of course just trying to keep up with all the books published this year. Yesterday she handed me A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, which she had just finished reading for Mock Printz (the Michael L. Printz Award is given for literary excellence in Young Adult literature). I snuck in a few pages at the reference desk and then read the rest of it in one sitting last night. Is it that good? Perhaps.
Conor, the teenage protagonist of A Monster Calls, is suffering as his mother receives treatments for cancer. He has nightmares, is bullied in school, and has far too much responsibility hoisted on his shoulders. As his mother’s condition deteriorates, he is visited by a monster, a spirit of nature, as old as the earth and as vast as the universe. I love guys like that. The monster and his mother help him learn that her dying is NOT his fault. It can take people years in therapy to learn that.
The blurbs on the back of the book are all true: This is a powerful and impressive book. It is haunting and lyrical. It is harrowing. I think teens should read this book--as harrowing as it is. I remember when my ex-husband and I first separated. My grief was intense. And a good friend told me to not let my kids, who were just 11 and 8 at the time, see too much of that grief. They wouldn’t be able to handle their mom being in so much pain, he said. He was right, I think, and I tried to shield them. They had their own grief, after all. Throughout it all, though (and still today), I wanted them to know that it was in no way their fault.
NB: I really dislike didactic books. I don’t read to learn Lessons. But A Monster Calls isn’t like that. There is something to be learned, but it’s something about ourselves. Should it win the Printz? I don’t know. I really loved Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races and I haven’t read all I possibly could in YA literature. But A Monster Calls is certainly a contender.
Of course, I wouldn’t give this book lightly to any teen. But I know I can safely give it to mature ones and say, read this, it’s a great book. (It’s also beautifully illustrated. Jim Kay’s drawings are just as lyrical as the text. They're magical.)