A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd by Patrick Ness and Jim Kay-I read this book all in one sitting, which is something I rarely do. Granted most books I read are longer and have fewer illustrations, but still. Speaking of illustrations, this book has several full-page illustrations and nearly half the pages in the book have at least some illustration somewhere on them. I would tell you to click on my (Amazon Affiliate) link above and click on the "Look Inside!" feature, but they showcase the Kindle version, not the hardback version...which is dumb.** (Instead, you can go to Jim Kay's web site and get an idea of what his work is like.) The illustrations are wonderful and lend a lot of atmosphere to the book. If you are going to read this book, I would encourage you to find a version that allows you to enjoy the artwork as well.
I didn't realize it when I picked it up, but A Monster Calls won the Red House Children's Book Award-Older Readers and was short-listed for the Galaxy Book of the Year Award-2011 (where Ness won in his category, National Book Tokens Children's Book of the Year). The book has also been shortlisted for the 2012 Kate Greenaway Medal, Carnegie Medal, Oxfordshire Book Award, and the German Children's Literature Award (Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis). It was also nominated for the 2012 BSFA Award for Best Art.
Whew! That's quite a bit of recognition, and rightfully deserved. All I knew when I picked it up was that I added it to my TBR list after I read Nymeth's review of it last year. She does a great job of explaining exactly why this book is great, so please go read her review. Mine is going to be a lot more...utilitarian. Here goes:
There's always a lot of mixed feelings when a loved one is dealing with a protracted illness, and, often, those feelings don't feel OK. Sure, sadness is expected, and anger and frustration; but what about when it gets really bad and the person is really sick and they're not going to get better? Is it OK to be upset about the way it's affecting your life? What if you have your own problems that you're dealing with? What if you just want it to be over already? Does that make you an awful person? These things are hard enough to deal with as an adult, but as a kid I'm sure it's even harder.
I think this is a book that has the potential to provide a lot of comfort. For kids (or even adults) who have had to deal with death, it's a chance to see that all the things they are feeling might be totally normal, that they aren't alone. It's also a chance to process all those feelings that adults are always trying to have awkward, sympathy-laced/keep-your-chin-up conversations with you about. For adults it could provide a good opportunity to see things from a kid's perspective as well as start a (hopefully productive) conversation with a young person who is trying to deal with loss. Also, sometimes it's just helpful to have a book that allows you to have a good cry.
I definitely think this is a book that needs some adult interaction; the main character, thirteen-year-old Conor O'Malley, goes through a destructive phase due to feelings of loneliness, anger, and frustration, not to mention the bullying he's dealing with at school. A child reading this on his own may see this as an example of how to handle such feelings, instead of how not to handle these feelings. I have a hard time sympathising with destructive kids in general, but I found Conor totally relatable and sympathetic, and there is great potential here for conversations of the "Have you ever felt like Conor?/What else could he have done in this situation?" variety.
Also, how could I not love a book that has a giant, ancient tree monster who lets you sleep in his branches?
**Also, be careful searching for "Monster Calls" on Amazon.com. It brings up several options that you probably don't want coming up when you're doing a search at work or with your kids in the room. Be sure to include Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd, and/or Jim Kay in your search.