Skip to main content

"A Monster Calls," by Patrick Ness

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.)


Popular posts from this blog

What I Haven't Read in 2017

I made an odd sort of promise to myself this year: Read fewer books. The past few years, I been reading at a pace of about 100 books per year – a mix of children’s (but not counting picture books), young adult, and adult – and I felt as if I was reading too quickly and perhaps forgetting what I was reading. (Thank goodness for Goodreads.)
However, I consider it a very important part of my job as a librarian to keep up with what’s published, even if it’s a daunting task. Hundreds of thousands books are published each year in this country, so obviously it’s beyond even a superhero librarian (and I’m not one of those) to keep all those titles straight. But I try to at least know something about some books. We have two public-facing desks in my library – one is called the information desk; the other, reference. If you are working at the information desk, you will be asked for book recommendations. You will be asked, have you read this book? You will be asked to help select a book for a r…

"Beartown" by Fredrik Backman

I’m about to be overly effusive: I loved Beartown by Fredrik Backman and I think it is one of the best books I’ve ever read. (See Tangent 1.)

Backman lured us into his Swedish world of curmudgeons and the neighbors who love them with A Man Called Ove and his other novellas. But this isn’t A Man Called Ove. This book has a much larger scope. This feels like the book Backman has always wanted to write but had to wait to give to us until he developed an audience. You got it, bro. I will read whatever else you write in the future. This book more deeply develops his ideas about communities. It is also about parenthood and all the responsibilities that go along with it. It’s about family and best friends who are like family. It’s about belonging. It’s about sorrow and happiness. And there’s some hockey. (Tangent 2.)
You will hate some of the parents (Kevin’s, William’s). You will love some of the teens (Amat, Maya, Ana, Benji, Bobo, Leo...). Be prepared to feel emotions. The characters – a…