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

Spirit’s Key by Edith Cohn (J Mystery)

Spirit’s Key

Edith Cohn (J Mystery)

They get quiet. I’ve come outside, so they reward me with their silence. But it’s only because they want me to follow them. They lead me across the island to the edge of the woods, where they wait. Their eyes are filled with that intense urgency that says Follow me. It’s hard not to be taken in by it. There’s something in the woods they want to show me, but I don’t think it’s as harmless as a horse. I think it’s something actually dangerous.

Twelve. That’s the age where a Holderness receives their gift to be able to see into a person’s future. But Spirit hasn’t received her gift yet and her father’s gift has started to become more and more unreliable—causing business and the community’s confidence to wane. Her dad says that she must reconcile with her present before she can see the future, but her beloved baldie, Sky, is dead and she somehow can’t seem to get over her loss. Worse, other baldies—the wild dogs that roam Bald Island—are dying and a mysterious illness is starting to affect the townspeople…including her father. Could the baldies be the cause? When Spirit’s beloved Sky reappears, he keeps drawing her into the woods and toward the baldie cave. Could the answer to everything plaguing the island lie within that darkened entryway?

Cohn delivers an age-appropriate and suspenseful mystery whose underlying theme is the importance of protecting and respecting life. She communicates the necessity of preservation without being overly preachy and does so through the wonderful relationship between a girl and her dog. Any child who has ever loved and lost a pet will immediately be connected to Spirit and will understand the unique bond she shares with Sky, as well as the profound emptiness she feels upon his death. She also provides so many other valuable lessons: the value of friendship (Everyone needs a friend to watch their back.); the reluctance to accept things that are different (Why do people fear things they don’t understand?); and the importance of living in the now (The present isn’t something we can squander.).

Books for young readers that have a principled and strong female protagonist are my favorites. Spirit is loyal, kind, passionate, and is not afraid to stand up for her convictions. She’s the kind of girl that you would be proud to call daughter and lucky to have as a friend. Most of all, she says the two most courageous and powerful words that anyone can speak: I care. When others around her falter and surrender to fear, Spirit stands up for those unable to defend themselves. She gives a voice to those unfairly targeted and hunted and reminds everyone that outsiders have a place in the world, too. Spirit is not extraordinary because she can hold a key and see into the future or that she can communicate with animals. She’s exemplary because she cares, and the world could use a lot more people like Spirit in it.

Rating: 5/5

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