Siobhán Parkinson on a book that would make a stone doorstep weep …
Children often tell me they like sad books. Perhaps they enjoy a tear-jerker in the same way they enjoy being scared by a ghost story, but there is much, much more to A Monster Calls than the fact that it would make a stone doorstep weep.
The mother of Conor, the boy in the story, is dying of cancer. We are never told either that she has cancer or that it is terminal, but from about a third of the way in, we know. We just do. Conor doesn’t know, however, and what is most impressive about this heartbreaking tour de force of a book is how the dying woman leads him, and the author leads us, to accept the truth and to let her go, so that on the last page, with Conor, we hold her in our arms and give her permission to breathe her last. The monster of the title is both the illness and a querulous storytelling yew tree that comes to Conor at night and gradually compels him to recognize the truth.
A book that will be of immense value for bereaved children, A Monster Calls is about the human condition itself, but it does not contain a single didactic syllable.
A Monster Calls (978 1 4063 1152 5) by Patrick Ness is published by Walker at £12.99. A paperback edition (978 1 4063 3651 1) will be published in October at £6.99.
Siobhán Parkinson is Irish Children’s Literature Laureate. Her latest book Bruised (978 1 4449 0359 1), a novel for young teenagers, is published by Hodder at £6.99.