A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I do not often come walking, boy, the monster said, only for matters of life and death. I expect to be listened to.

The monster loosened its grip, and Conor could breathe again. ‘So what do you want with me?’ Conor asked.

The monster gave an evil grin. The wind died down and a quiet fell. At last, said the monster. To the matter at hand. The reason I have come walking.

Conor tensed, suddenly dreading what was coming.

Here is what will happen, Conor O’Malley, the monster continued, I will come to you again on further nights.

Conor felt his stomach clench, like he was preparing for a blow.

And I will tell you three stories.  Three tales from when I walked before.

At 12:07 every night since Conor’s mother took a turn for the worse, the monster comes to visit.  Looking like an enormous yew tree, and leaving trails of spiky leaves on Conor’s bedroom floor, he demands something of the young man.  In trade for three of his stories, Conor must tell his own.

But he cannot do it.  Even though the ancient monster is terrifying, full of magic older than time, even though Conor is not even sure he has a choice, he is too afraid.  He is more frightened of revealing his own nightmare than of anything the monster could do.  However, when he begins to believe that telling the truth will somehow heal his mother, from the cancer ravaging her body, he musters up the courage to share the truth of his worst nightmare with the monster.

Just like The Book of Lost Things, this is a story about sickness, the isolating nature of grief and fear, and the place of stories in our lives.  The book was inspired by an idea from the award-winning author, Siobhan Dowd, who passed away before the story could be written.  Patrick Ness, the author of The Knife of Never Letting Go picked up her torch and, with illustrator Jim Kay, created a book that you won’t soon forget.  The story is messy, in much the same way that life is.  Sometimes, our loved ones do not heal, despite the hope we have.  We make harmful choices.  Our friends betray us, and we do the same to them.  However, that is the appeal of the story:  I loved this book not only for its haunting illustrations, but also for its honesty.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.patrickness.com

Ness, Patrick. A Monster Calls. Candlewick: Somerville, 2011. 205 pp. Ages 12 and up.

If you are a younger reader and trying to find books about loved ones with serious illnesses, Notes from the Dog is a good place to start.  If you are older, you might want to try The Fault in Our Stars.  If the story-telling part was what you loved about this book (and you’re a younger reader) The Neverending Story is a classic book about the importance of stories.  If you’re older, and some gruesome bits do not upset you, The Book of Lost Things is my very, very favorite.

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The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

“I was born into all that, all that mess, the over-crowded swamp and the over-crowded semetary and the not-crowded-enough town, so I don’t remember nothing, don’t remember a world without Noise.  My pa died of sickness before I was born and then my ma died, of course, no surprises there.  Ben and Cillian took me in, raised me.  Ben says my ma was the last of the women but everyone says that about everyone’s ma.  Ben may not be lying, he believes it’s true, but who knows?”

Todd is the youngest male in the settlement of Prentisstown, a town with no women left and ravaged by a disease called Noise.  Not only does Noise broadcast everyone’s thoughts out loud, it also caused all the women to sicken and die.  Todd was taught that Noise was caused by a germ carried by native inhabitants of the New World, a race called the Spackle.  However, right before his birthday, his adoptive parents hand him a notebook written years before by his mother-a notebook that tells an entirely different story about Noise and warns against the sinister preachings of Mayor Prentiss.

The problem with Noise, of course, is that no one has any secrets.  As soon as he sees the notebook, Todd must strike out through the swamps and across the countryside, in the hopes that he will be able to outrun the other men of the town.  He knows they will come after him as soon as they hear his Noise and know he is trying to escape.  During his flight, he meets a young woman named Viola, whose parents’ ship had crashed in the swamp.  Viola had been trying to survive on her own in the hostile environment.  Todd is fascinated (he has never seen a girl before!), but also terrified that he might infect her with the Noise germ.  Companionship wins, and the two proceed across the New World, trying to reach the town of Haven that Todd’s mother mentioned in her notebook.  They are in a desperate scramble to outrun the militia of Prentisstown men, who are convinced that Todd, as the last male in the village, is a vital part of their salvation plan.  When Todd learns the truth about Noise, what happened to the women, and what the men of Prentisstown expect him to do, he will face an ethical dilemma that nothing could have prepared him for.

This is a fast-paced, post-apocalyptic story that reads like a cross between Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and M. T. Anderson’s Feed.  The book explores colonization, racism, religious extremism, and the idea that just knowing about something ethically wrong, but not acting to right it, makes one complicit in the crime.  Does that sound too philosophical?  Don’t worry-I promise you won’t want to put this book down.  Not only is it a compelling story,  it is also a graphically interesting book.  The Noise of different villagers is depicted with distinct fonts, and the spelling of Todd’s words and thoughts is quite phonetic, rather than conventional.  Plus, if you really loved it, there are already two more out in the series, which is called Chaos Walking. The second installment is The Ask and the Answer and the final book is Monsters of Men.

This book was short-listed for the Carnegie award and was also recognized by Booklist, among others.  I found it a nice change from the technology-heavy dystopian novels out there, and loved the creative presentation of the Noise.  I hope you like it!

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.patrickness.com

Ness, Patrick. The Knife of Never Letting Go. Candlewick Press: Somerville, MA, 2008. 479 pp. Ages 14 and up.

If you liked the conspiracy theory part of this book, you would probably like M. T. Anderson’s Feed.  For a suspenseful futuristic escape story that also explores issues of racism and colonialism, try Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion. It’s amazing!