Ness, Patrick. 2011. A MONSTER CALLS. Ill. by Jim Kay. Somerville, MA: Candlewick. ISBN 9780763655594 [Suggested Grade Levels 7-12]
Unable to cope with his mother’s terminal cancer, Conor O’Malley begins seeing a monster. The ancient monster, transformed from the yew tree in his backyard, has come walking to tell Conor three stories. After the stories are finished, the monster wants Conor to tell him the fourth tale, his truth. Conor tries to ignore the monster’s request as his world falls apart, but the yew tree forces Conor to admit his darkest fears to himself so he can let go of his mother.
Kay’s black and white illustrations effectively use texture and shading to capture Conor’s isolation and anger. The monster’s facial expressions and physical stance add to the dark mood Ness creates in this emotional tale of facing loss. Ness’ haunting novel is inspired by Siobhan Dowd’s final unfinished story. After Dowd suffered an untimely death, Ness was charged with turning her idea into a book. He took her initial notes and created a story with “only a single guideline: to write a book I think Siobhan would have liked.”
This book would be appropriate for mature readers. Teens suffering the loss of a loved one might take comfort from Conor’s experience. Readers could discuss the role of admitting the truth in the recovery process.
Other books about loss written for teens:
Anderson, Laurie Halse. WINTERGIRLS. ISBN 9781407117485
Asher, Jay. THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. ISBN 9781595141880
Forman, Gayle. IF I STAY. ISBN 9780142415436
Green, John. LOOKING FOR ALASKA. ISBN 9780142402511
Matson, Morgan. AMY AND ROGER’S EPIC DETOUR. ISBN 9781416990666
By Kimberly C. Kinnaird