Tuesday 21 November 2017

Review: Children's Books: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Walker Books, £12.99

This is based on work by Siobhan Dowd, the acclaimed writer for children who died of breast cancer in 2007 before she had time to finish the book.

Patrick Ness was chosen to finish the project and says it was "like being handed a baton and told to run". And run he did. This is a beautifully written book, full of honesty and truth.

Conor's mum is dying of cancer. Every night the huge yew tree in the garden comes to life and visits him. The tree tells him three stories which, like Bible parables, work by wrong-footing the listener -- good characters turn out to be bad, and bad, good.

But the reader soon realises the real 'monster' is not the yew tree at all, it's Conor's situation and his swirling emotions. He worries about practical things -- where will he live when his mum dies? -- and he struggles with how to tell his mum how he feels about her, finding it impossible to find the words until the tree's stories help him make sense of things.

Although very much Ness's book, Dowd's influence is stitched through every page. It's impossible to read without sobbing and reflecting; like every great book, it touches both the heart and the mind. Unmissable.

Sharon O'Neill

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