Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness)

Thanks to NetGalley for this eARC!

Perhaps the problem is that I am a cold-hearted beast who cannot feel sympathy. I suppose that might not be true, because there are plenty of books that have led me to tears. Maybe it's something about cancer narratives. I don't know. They seem a little too emotionally-demanding.

This is one of Patrick Ness' Carnegie-Medal-winning books. A Monster Calls is about Conor, a 13-year-old boy whose mother has been diagnosed with cancer. He is eternally optimistic about her recovery but increasingly annoyed with the way people around him have begun to treat him--with kind distance, or overbearing sympathy, or outright cruelty (obviously this last one is his peers, because children are just cruel).

Every night he has a horrible nightmare, the details of which we are not privvy to. And then one night, at 12:07am, a monster calls. It takes the form of the yew tree in his backyard, and it begins to tell him stories--there are three, and after the monster has concluded its tales, Conor must tell his own, true story. Trapped between the monster, his distant father and his unaffectionate grandmother, Conor begins to lash out.

Now, here's what I can say I liked about the book--the monster itself. Sections featuring the yew-tree creature are these wonderful, dreamlike passages that balance perfectly between fantasy and delusion. The stories it tells are archetypal and evocative. It's a great use of magical realism that serves as a metaphor that isn't too overbearing or heavy-handed. It feels like a fairy tale or a myth in its execution, and the effect is lovely.

But that's all I liked (which, granted, is between 1/3 and 1/2 of the novel). Conor is written very annoyingly--I suppose this ought to be a praise rather than a criticism, because the way Ness writes Conor is exactly the way younger children behave when confronted with big, scary problems. But that doesn't mean I enjoyed reading it. I would quasi-skim sections without the titular monster because of how much Conor irked me. So, I suppose, yay for being so realistic, but boo for making me not want to read it?

And the ending. I won't outright spoil, but the story's a cancer narrative, so you can see where it's going. This book has absolutely glowing reviews, and a good many of them mention how emotional the conclusion of the novel is. I just didn't feel it. I never felt like I was going to tear up or actually cry. And that's a problem, isn't it? When a book wants you to cry and you just don't? It is for me, anyway. I mean, it is sad. Just not that sad.

So I'll go with "meh", because some of it is really good, some of it is irritating, and some of it never manages to command my feelings like it should have.

My rating: 3/5
A Monster Calls on Goodreads
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