A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Beautiful.  Heartbreaking. Haunting.  Powerful.  Life-changing.  The only words that can describe Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd.  A dark and moving story of loss and life.  One that should be in every classroom and school library.

There is nothing that can prepare you to face a life of loss.  There is even less one can do to prepare a preteen.  Connor’s father lives with his new family in the States, leaving Connor and his mother to carry on in England.  He cares for his mother but something is wrong.  She has been sick, but Connor doesn’t realize how sick she is.  When she begins getting weaker, Connor realizes that he may be losing her as she loses her battle.  It’s almost more than he can handle, alongside his problems with the bullies at the school and his overbearing grandmother.

At night, he lies awake staring into the darkness.  Until 12:07am when the Monster appears, answering Connor’s call.  Except that Connor doesn’t know what the Monster means.  He hasn’t called him.  But the Monster continues coming at seven minutes past midnight each night.  Taking the form of a yew tree in the field outside Connor’s window, he presents to three true, yet strange stories to Connor one at a time.  Then the Monster asks Connor to tell him a true story, one that Connor must swear not to tell anyone, or else the Monster will eat Connor alive.

And in the midst of this chaos that is Connor’s life, he wonders what this Monster could mean.  Is he losing his mind? Or is the Monster some form of divine intervention, there to help him come to terms with the difficulties of growing up?

A Monster Calls is a gripping and epic tale.  I found myself crying multiple times as I read, as I followed the emotional rollercoaster of Connor’s life.  It’s a quick read, but one that you will want to reread immediately upon finishing.  The sparse, lyrical prose is rife with metaphors and allegory.  Ness tells a beautiful and raw story that will leave you wiping away tears and contemplating life.

The story is enhanced by Jim Kay’s haunting black-and-white illustrations.  This is the rare MG/YA book that is heavily illustrated and the illustrations are magical.  The splatters, lines, and shadows capture the haunting tone of the story and the ephemeral feeling of the story.  The emotions jump across the page, illustrations and lyrical prose hand-in-hand.

The original idea for  A Monster Calls was developed by the late Siobhan Dowd, the Carnegie Award winner.  After her death, Patrick Ness stepped in and did an unbelievable job in turning Dowd’s characters, premise, and beginning a beautiful story that will move anyone who reads it to tears.  Highly, highly recommended.

Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur

Aubrey is alone, but no one can find out. She goes about her day pretending that her mother hasn’t abandoned her without warning.  She puts on disguises to go food shopping and doesn’t answer the phone.  Eleven years old, she is dealing with issues far beyond her young age.

The best word to describe Love, Aubrey is bittersweet. Aubrey’s father and younger sister died in a car crash and her mother shut down after losing them.  Now, she has left Aubrey without warning.  When Aubrey’s grandmother shows up and offers to take her back to Vermont to live, Aubrey isn’t sure she wants to go.  Starting over is never easy and life hasn’t been good to Aubrey lately.  But as she settles slowly into a new life, she gains a best friend and supportive family.  However, she still doesn’t know how to deal with her own grief and confusion.  Aubrey writes letters to an imaginary friend, keeping her close to her baby sister,Savannah, and helping her deal with her feelings. Supported by her grandmother, new friends and school counselor, Aubrey learns to move on and build a new life.  And when her mother comes back into her life, she is able to make the difficult choice presented to her- stay in Vermont or move back home with Mom in Virginia.

Love, Aubrey is a book I couldn’t put down.  It easily could have been overdone and miserable; instead, LaFleur has crafted a powerful story about grief and loss.  At times funny, heartbreaking, and poignant, Love, Aubrey is a phenomenal story.  I found myself racing through the book, stopping only wipe tears from my eyes or to get more tissues.  A perfect novel for middle grade readers, this is also a story adults and teens will enjoy.  I already have a handful of students who have read the book and all of them commented that they couldn’t put it down.  And they loved it as much as I did!

*Review copy courtesy of the publisher

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