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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Read by Jason Isaacs.

Cd. 4 hrs. Brilliance Audio, 2011.

First, this book is weird. I would probably call it magical realism. It’s not exactly fantasy, and it doesn’t mention magic, and it feels like realistic fiction. Conor is a young teen whose mother has terminal cancer. The whole book is about him feeling guilty that he wants his mom’s suffering to be over so he doesn’t have to agonize over it daily. He doesn’t want to lose her, but thinking about her day in and day out is destroying his life. At school, his former friends and classmates treat him like he has a contagious disease, and the class bully beats him up almost daily. And the strange part is, Conor wants it that way, even though it may not seem like it at first. He is mad at his ex-friend/girl neighbor for telling everyone at school that his mother has cancer. She thought she was helping. He disdains their pity for him, yet he wants to be punished.

At first, the reader won’t realize why Conor wants to be punished. And this is why the monster comes walking. A big, scary monster that takes the form of the yew tree that resides in his rural backyard and comes to him at around 12:07 at night regularly. Conor should be afraid of the monster, but he isn’t really. The monster claims he will come and tell Conor three stories and then Conor must tell his truth. The stories and how they intertwine with Conor’s reality and moral reasoning are the basis of this story. This book is pretty abstract with concepts that might be hard for tweens and teens to grasp, but the Caudill committee thought that grades 7+ could handle it. Ultimately, this book is about dealing with grief and loss.

What is interesting about this book is that Patrick Ness, the author, picked this idea up from one of Siobhan Dowd’s unfinished works. She died of cancer before she could finish it. I’ll let you read into that and devour it as you will. This is a strong statement about cancer, those we leave behind, and how to let go. You’ll probably have to help students out with this one a bit.

The work is accompanied by illustrations that seem inspired by Alvin Schwartz’s Tales to Tell in the Dark series. I listened to the audiobook, so I looked at them after I finished. I think they are great and vivid, but honestly, I pictured them pretty much the same in my head without the visualizations.

For more creepy trees, try The Night Gardener (review here) by Jonathan Auxier. For a child’s view of dealing with cancer try Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls. For more books on children of parents with cancer: