A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (YA Fantasy)

A Monster Calls  

Patrick Ness (YA Fantasy)

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.

At thirteen, Conor was too old for monsters. Monsters were for babies and bedwetters and Conor was neither; however, here he was—night after night reliving the same images that made him wake up screaming into the darkness. But one night, another monster came to visit. Not the one from his nightmare, but a different one. One that would tell him three stories and would then require Conor to tell him the fourth. But the fourth wouldn’t be a story. The fourth would be the truth…Conor’s truth. A truth that he’s been avoiding for a very, very long time.

Do NOT judge this book by either its cover or its title! A Monster Calls is not a horror story, but rather an intensely moving and intellectually provocative read that examines death, bullying, and growing isolation. Patrick Ness’s story (inspired by an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd) and Jim Kay’s beautiful and macabre illustrations allow A Monster Calls to leap off the page, reach inside your chest, and put a death grip on your heart. The action and emotions intensify as the story unfolds and reaches the ultimate crescendo when the reader realizes the truth behind the monster and the meaning of Conor’s nightmare. It’s a painful and agonizing revelation and you can’t help but cry out as our young protagonist finally comes to terms with the grim reality he’s been desperately avoiding and denying. It’s a master class in storytelling and a final work that Siobhan Dowd surely would have been immensely proud of.

On one of their encounters, the monster told Conor about the importance of stories: “They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth.” There are countless stories about how children deal with trauma—especially when it involves a loved one—but Ness’s approach cuts to the very heart of the loneliness, fear, and helplessness they feel and how these feelings manifest themselves into monsters and darkness and voids that suck the very air from your lungs. It’s a dark and empty feeling that’s scary and cold, but Ness reminds us that truth can cut through the darkest of places; that acceptance can be a way out of the deepest abyss; and that forgiveness can open the way to healing and peace.      

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt (J)

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town    

Kimberly Willis Holt

Nothing ever happens in Antler, Texas. Nothing much at all. Until this afternoon, when an old blue Thunderbird pulls a trailer decorated with Christmas lights into the Dairy Maid parking lot. The red words painted on the trailer cause quite a buzz around town, and before an hour is up, half of Antler is standing in line with two dollars clutched in hand to see the fattest boy in the world.

It’s the summer of ‘71 in Antler, Texas and the biggest news in town was Cal’s brother, Wayne, serving in Vietnam and Toby’s mom, Opalina, going to Nashville to compete in the National Amateurs’ Country Music Competition at the Grand Ole Opry. Those two things alone were enough to keep the town’s tongues wagging for a while, but then along came that white trailer carrying the world’s fattest boy. Just two dollars and you could gawk all you like. It doesn’t seem like anything could top this, but Toby Wilson and Cal McKnight are two teenagers in a small town so you can bet that adventure—and trouble—aren’t too far behind.

With her National Book Award winning novel, Kimberly Willis Holt takes us to small town America in the early 70s. A time when the country was embroiled in the Vietnam War, the local cafe was where you went to get updated on all the latest news, and there was nothing so bad that eating a snow cone with your best friend couldn’t make right. Holt’s downhome, folksy writing immediately sets a tone of comfort, familiarity, and inclusion for her readers and instantly makes you a part of this tight-knit town that boasts the Wag-a-Bag, Bowl-a-Rama, AND Wylie Womack’s snow cone cart. What more could a town need?

Holt explores so many important and relevant themes that often (and unfortunately) go unexplored in today’s stories for young readers. It’s the subtle niceties that bear no monetary value that seldom makes it to the written page: allowing a person to maintain their dignity, extending a stranger common courtesy and respect, and accepting loss and defeat with grace and valor. Kindness, decency, and friendship serve as the foundation for When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, but Holt also shines a light on the selfish side of human nature and how easy it is to put our own wants and desires ahead of what is right—regardless of the consequences. She also explores a number of relationships in her book with each one offering readers a valuable lesson in forgiveness, humility, and empathy.

Two teenage boys learned so much when Zachary Beaver came to town, but perhaps the most important were that friends don’t snitch on one another, you always stick up for those who can’t defend themselves, and you never, never turn down the chance to dance with the girl of your dreams…especially when a song by the Carpenters is playing.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com 

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