A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd
I finally got to read this book, which I had requested from the library about a month ago, but the copies were all booked up until now. And I can definitely get behind the Newbery Committee for honoring this book. It was the book that my son's Mock Newbery Book Club chose as their nominee for the Newbery Winner, and I could see that as well. It really is an extraordinary book.
It is a very unique take on an unfortunately all-too-common problem. The protagonist is a young adolescent boy whose single mother is dealing with some kind of illness (I assumed it was cancer). A monster appears to him at night to tell him stories, in exchange for which the boy is to tell him the truth. However, as the book proceeds, the whole monster thing remains mysterious. Is it a dream? Is it the boy's imagination? Is it his fears made manifest? Is it real? It captures that great quality of confusion that you have right when you wake from an intense dream and can't remember where you are and aren't sure what is real and what isn't.
In the meantime, the boy must deal with the challenges of his daytime life. Those include a father who has remarried and moved abroad with his new family, school bullies, a perceived betrayal by a friend, and handling the overly-solicitious pity of his teachers. Ness' portrayal of a young teen in these circumstances is very authentic.
The stories that the monster tells are very thought provoking. You think they are taking you one place, but you end up in another. The whole thing is quite unpredictable, which I love in a book. So as you go along, you are wondering, Is this monster the boy's worst nightmare, or could it be his salvation?
You'll have to answer that question for yourself when you read it.
The excellent text is accompanied by some wonderful illustrations by Jim Kay. They are more evocative and atmospheric than explaining what is going on, which is perfect for the tone of the book.
All in all, this is just a wonderful read. It deals with some tough subjects, so it may not be appropriate for sensitive readers at the younger age range of the Newbery book audience. It is an emotional book, so be prepared for that. It may be a tough journey, but it's worth it.