Monster Calls
by Ness, Patrick; Kay, Jim (ILT)

Thirteen-year-old Conor awakens one night to find a monster outside his bedroom window, but not the one from the recurring nightmare that began when his mother became ill-an ancient creature that wants him to face truth and loss.

Patrick Ness is the author of the critically acclaimed and best-selling Chaos Walking trilogy. He has won numerous awards, including the Guardian Children&;s Fiction Prize, the Booktrust Teenage Prize, and the Costa Children&;s Book Award. Born in Virginia, he lives in London.

Siobhan Dowd spent twenty years as a human rights campaigner for PEN and Amnesty International before her first novel, A Swift Pure Cry, was published in 2006. She won the Carnegie Medal posthumously in 2009 after her death at the age of forty-seven.

Jim Kay studied illustration and worked in the archives of the Tate Gallery and the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, two experiences that heavily influence his work. His images for A Monster Calls use everything from beetles to breadboards to create interesting marks and textures. Jim Kay lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.

*Starred Review* After the stylistic feats and dumbfounding originality of Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy, this follow-up effort comes as something of a surprise-an earthbound story concocted from a premise left behind by the late Siobhan Dowd. As Conor watches his mother succumb to cancer, he is pummeled by grief, anger, isolation, helplessness, and something even darker. At night, when he isn't trapped in a recurring nightmare too terrible to think about, he is visited by a very real monster in the form of a giant yew tree. The monster tells Conor three ambiguous, confusing stories, then demands a final one from the boy, one that "will tell me your truth." Meanwhile, Conor's mom tears through ineffective treatments, and Conor simmers with rage: "Everybody always wants to have a talk lately." But all that really happens is a lot of pussyfooting around the central, horrible fact that his mother is dying, and what does the monster mean about "the truth" anyway? A story with such moribund inevitability could easily become a one-note affair-or, worse, forgettable-but small, surgically precise cuts of humor and eeriness provide a crucial magnifying effect. Moreover, Ness twists out a resolution that is revelatory in its obviousness, beautiful in its execution, and fearless in its honesty. Kay's artwork keeps the pace, gnawing at the edges of the pages with thundercloud shadows and keeping the monster just barely, terribly seeable. Sidestepping any trace of emotional blackmail, Ness shines Dowd's glimmer into the deepest, most hidden darkness of doubt, and finds a path through. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

From a premise left by author Siobhan Dowd before her untimely death, Ness has crafted a nuanced tale that draws on elements of classic horror stories to delve into the terrifying terrain of loss.

When a monster in the form of an ancient yew tree crashes through his bedroom walls after midnight, calling his name, Conor is remarkably unperturbed—"Shout all you want," he says. "I've seen worse." Indeed he has, in a recurring nightmare of someone slipping from his grasp, a nightmare whose horror he keeps to himself. Daily life is intolerable, as everyone from teachers to bullies treats him as though he were invisible since his mother began chemotherapy. The monster tells Conor three stories before insisting that Conor tell one himself. Asserting that "stories are the wildest things of all," the monster opens the door for Conor to face the guilty truth behind his subconscious fears. Ness brilliantly captures Conor's horrifying emotional ride as his mother's inevitable death approaches. In an ideal pairing of text and illustration, the novel is liberally laced with Kay's evocatively textured pen-and-ink artwork, which surrounds the text, softly caressing it in quiet moments and in others rushing toward the viewer with a nightmarish intensity.

A poignant tribute to the life and talent of Siobhan Dowd and an astonishing exploration of fear. (Fiction. 11-14)

Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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