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.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

“‘There will come a time,’ I said, ‘when all of us are dead.  All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything.  There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you.  Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this’-I gestured encompassingly-‘will have been for naught.  Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever.  There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after.  And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it.  God knows that’s what everyone else does.'”

Hazel Grace is sixteen years old and terminally ill.  Not in the for-literary-convenience-and-there-will-be-a-miraculous-cure-before-the-book-ends sort of way, either.  She is in love with Gus, another teenager whose body has been ravaged by cancer.  They met at the Cancer Kid Support Group-the one they both attend in order to placate their parents. But that’s really not the important part of this story.

The important part is this:  Hazel’s favorite book is An Imperial Affliction, written by an author who has secluded himself  since the novel’s publication.  However, it has a hanging ending, and Hazel needs to know what happens.  She and Gus plan a trip to Amsterdam, where the author lives, in order to find out the rest of the story.

Honestly, though: that’s not the important part, either.  The reason this book is so special is because it talks to you as though you are a human being, mature enough to handle the (terrifying) prospect of contemplating the big questions: death, injustice, the purpose of being a human.  There is a lot of philosophy in this novel, but it’s not pretentious, and definitely not boring.  John Green, the author, respects you enough to believe that you are capable of thinking about big and scary things.  There are diagrams, too! I love when authors do that.

This book is like a Guide for Being a Person.  It will break your heart, but you’ll be glad you read it.  (Also, please don’t assume it is one of those sappy dying-romantics story.  It’s all right if that’s your  thing, but this book is definitely not like that.)

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://johngreenbooks.com

Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars. New York: Dutton, 2012. 318 pp.  Ages 16 and up.

Here’s what I told a friend about the awesomeness that is this book:

“In the book I’m reading: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Shakespeare, Kirkegaard [don’t panic, friends-I can never remember his theories and had to look them up yet again],  Heidegger, ‘I don’t think defeatism is honest…I refuse to accept that’, the concept of pure forms, the battle between positivists and humanists, and this amazing narrative parallel between a book with a hanging ending (in the story) and what I am wondering will be an actual hanging ending.
And it’s for teenagers.
I never, ever want to hear that YA lit isn’t real reading.”

So, if this book crawls into your brain and won’t leave you alone, I think you’ll like A. S. King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz.  There are charts! And ghosts! And this is another book that doesn’t talk down to you.  Also, you could try Looking for Alaska, an earlier book by John Green that is just as deep and wonderful.

I can’t wait to see what awards this book wins.  It’s already on a billion bestseller lists.