I must be one of the last people on earth to read this book. It was certainly one of the big books of 2011/2012. I'd seen the striking cover around and about a lot. I'd seen many, many bloggers reading it. People on Goodreads reading it. And it won awards. Lots of awards. Big awards too. The Carnegie Medal. The Kate Greenaway Prize. The British Children's Book of the Year Award. The Red House Children's Book Award.
Still, I didn't really know anything much about the book. I hadn't read Patrick Ness before but had at least seen his books in the shops, and had never even heard of Siobhan Dowd. I was glad to take advantage of a little free time to get to a book from the TBR. I think A Monster Calls is a good book to go into with as little knowledge as possible. So if you haven't read it yet, and are inclined to, don't read much further, and go find yourself a copy.
A Monster Calls gets off to an electrifying start.
The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.
Conor was awake when it came.
He'd had a nightmare. Well, not a nightmare. The nightmare. The one he'd been having a lot lately. The one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming. The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter how hard he tried to hold on. The one that always ended with-
A Monster Calls is the moving story of 13 year old Conor O'Malley, bullied at school, lonely, his Dad has moved to America and started a new family, and his mother is battling a serious illness. Is his visiting monster there to help or to hurt Conor? The monster begins to tell Conor three stories in a rather Dickensian A Christmas Carol kind of way.
The Second Tale
One hundred and fifty years ago, the monster began, this country had become a place of industry. Factories grew on the landscape like weeds. Trees fell, fields were up-ended, rivers blackened. The sky choked on smoke and ash, and the people did, too, spending their days coughing and itching, their eyes turned forever towards the ground. Villages grew into towns, towns into cities. And people began to live on the earth rather than within it.
|From Jim Kay's excellent website|
Stunning illustrations by Jim Kay really help build the story, and it's fitting that he won the Kate Greenaway Medal for them. The back flyleaf tells us Jim Kay used everything "from beetles to breadboards to create interesting marks and textures". The Guardian had an interesting piece on how Patrick Ness and Jim Kay worked on the book together, but without ever meeting.
I read much of this book sitting as a passenger in a car (with Eurovision blaring as ever), still I was transported into Conor's world, and cried heartily at the end. A tribute to the powerful storytelling and illustrative powers of Patrick Ness and Jim Kay.