This book has been on my must-read list for quite some time, but every time I went into the bookstore, I would end up finding another book that I wanted instead, so I never got around to reading it. Recently, I checked it out of the library, read over a couple of breaks, and promptly fell in love with Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls. It’s haunting, it’s moving, it’s terribly sad, but the beauty of this novel earns it top marks for me.
This illustrated novel follows an encounter between 13 year old Conor and the old yew tree which he can see from his house. Traumatized by his latest recurring nightmare, Conor awakes at 12:07 to find a great tree-like monster standing in his backyard with a proposition — the monster will tell Conor three stories, and then Conor will tell him one, specifically The Truth about his nightmare, and if the monster is satisfied that Conor has told the truth, it will not eat him alive. Conor tries to write off the meeting as a dream, but finds his bedroom littered with tiny sharp yew leaves in the morning, and the monster visits again, always at 12:07. While Conor is dealing with the monster and his twisting tales, he is also dealing with another monster: his mother’s cancer. As the tale unfolds, Conor realizes that the monster might actually be there to help after all.
This story is dark, easily one of the darkest ones I’ve read this year. But it is also painfully true, incredibly moving, and in some quiet way, it is also healing. Cuddle up with this one alone somewhere so no one can see you ugly cry — because you probably will.
I love a good monster. From Frankenstein to Dracula, from dragons to werewolves, the monstrous Other has always been a top for me, so I knew when I began this book that it would probably become a favorite with me. Humanized monsters, monsters that we learn to love rather than fear, monsters who are more human than we are — those are the best kind. This book manages to wind together the unfathomable god-monster of the past and the recognizable human-monster of the present in way that utterly captivates. This novel is so touching and true, and the yew-tree is no small part of that. In a twist, I also liked how the monster could, for once, teach a human to be a little more monstrous.
This a book about processing grief, about dealing with hard truths, and learning how to keep going, even when that seems utterly impossible. It’s well written, it’s vivid and alive in the black and white illustrations, and it touches on more than one dark truth about all of us, including our desire to be free of burdens, no matter what they are. I completely recommend this book for everyone.
P.S. There is a film adaptation which I will try to hunt down and write about here!
Who is your favorite monster?