Patrick Ness – A Monster Calls

This came as a surprise. I bought the book because I am a sucker for illustrations, especially black and white ones. Jim Kay’s particular dark style intrigued me and since Patrick Ness has been hyped for his Chaos Walking trilogy, I thought I’d give this a try. I never expected to become this emotional about the story but even though it doesn’t relate to my own life at all, it touched me on a level few other books have.

by Patrick Ness
inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd

Illustrated by: Jim Kay
Published: Walker Books, 2011
Pages: 2015
Copy:  Hardcover

My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting– he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd – whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself – Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

The yew tree just outside Conor’s window has always been particularly interesting to Conor’s mom. Now that Conor has been plagued by nightmares – well, the nightmare – for months, this yew tree turns into a monster whose mission becomes clearer as the story spins along. Conor, a very mature thirteen-year-old, is immediately likable. I felt with him the moment I got to meet him. On the very first page. Whether it was waking up from the nightmare, cleaning the kitchen and packing his own lunch, or being invisible at school, he was an emotionally engrossing protagonist whom I simply wanted to be a little happier.

There are few sidecharacters and they don’t take up too much space in the story, but each and every one of them felt fleshed out and real. I even liked Lily and the group of bullies we only get to see a little of. Within just a few pages, Patrick Ness throws his readers into this entirely believable world of a young boy dealing with everyday life and his mother’s illness.

As a fantasy reader, I was most interested in the monster, of course. And as monsters go, it is pretty amazing. Even without the amazing illustrations, it comes to life and transmits this feeling of age and wisdom and something belonging to the oldest Earth. I grew to like the monster quite a bit, as I liked most characters. The monster tells Conor three tales with a specific goal – after the first one I should have seen the twists coming. Whether it was my own stupidity (or I was too enthralled in the story to remember) or Patrick Ness’ talent as a writer, the first two stories took me by surprise and were entertaining and shocking at the same time.

By story number three I felt I understood the drill. But after three, of course, comes four. And I won’t say much about this one. It offered the perfect ending to an already tragic story. This was the part that surprised me most. I do cry a lot when books are sad but for the most part, I was quite reserved while reading this story. Until the last third which made me well up unexpectedly. I didn’t know I felt so much emotion for these characters until I felt my eyes brimming with tears. The ending was perfect and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There are still writers of young adult fiction who believe in the craft and the power of words. You won’t find too-pretty-for-their-own-good girls in here, stumbling into a magic world they didn’t know existed where they are princesses and fall for the brooding, dark guy. You will find the depths of humanity brought to life and a handful of characters that can touch you at your core and tell you a story worth telling.

THE GOOD: A touching story, peopled with great characters and a monster most unlike those of our childhood’s fairy tales. And a tearjerker.
THE BAD: If I had a say in it, I would have made the story longer. I wanted more of Conor’s school life, especially his broken friendship with Lily.
THE VERDICT: A truly excellent young adult book with a message at its core and a thrilling plot as a wrapper. This is what books are for and this is how you write for a young audience. You treat them with respect, as you do your characters. Well done, Patrick Ness!

RATING: 8,5/10  Truly excellent.

John Green – The Fault In Our Stars

On YouTube, everybody is talking about John Green. I’ve never heard about this author or any of his books. Then again, I do live in Vienna and it usually takes a while until the translation hits the shelves here and only then do the big hits really take off.

by John Green

published by: Dutton Books, 2012
pages: 318
copy: hardcover

my rating: 8/10

first sentence: Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.

When 16-year-old Hazel meets Augustus in one of her Cancer Support Group meetings, he seems immediately smitten and not the least put off by the oxigen tank trailing behind her. While Hazel is much more careful around other people, the fact that Agustus likes her favorite book helps build a friendship. Together, they set out on a quest to find out what happened after the novel ends abrubptly and mid-sentence, and end up falling in love…

I was determined to not be biased by all the raving reviews I had read of John Green’s books. In fact, they may have made it harder for Mr. Green to capture my reader’s heart. Which didn’t detain him at all. While the fun and quirky writing style sucked me in immediately, I only fell in love with the novel about a third of the way in. John Green seems to have timed this perfectly – stealing your heart, only to break it. And making you laugh while he does so.

Hazel’s grounded, funny and at times sarcastic voice makes this an enthralling and way-too-quick read. With such a stron protagonist, the added bonus of Agustus turned me into a fangirl that would put Twilight fans to shame. I honestly didn’t expect the dialogue to be that good, especially when it was Hazel and Augustus against the world – they have a sense of gallow’s humor only the terminally ill will probably truly understand. At times, I didn’t know whether I should cry of laugh – I ended up doing both.

This Support Group featured a rotating cast of characters in various states of tumor-driven unwellness. Why did the cast rotate? A side effect of dying.

This bittersweet, heartbreaking tale is a love story, yes. And it is a cancer story. But don’t be put off. The novel’s strongest suit is its humor and dialogue and characters you wish you knew in real life. But it also provides some little plot twists that took me by surprise. In fact, I thought I had figured out how it would end by chapter 4, only to find out I was way off.

While I was reading (in one go, by the way, only taking a couple of toilet breaks… and yes, I admit I took the book with me even then *ahem*) this silly grin seemed pasted onto my face. John Green knows what it’s like to fall in love and he made me remember my teenage days, though not cancer-ridden, as full of feelings as this story.

It is with one laughing and one crying eye that I close this book (which unfortunately is not signed by the author, no matter what color sharpee) and go looking for the next John Green to read.

THE GOOD: Quirky, fast-paced read, lovable characters, funny dialogue, adorable story.
THE BAD: Tear-jerker, should not be read in public by people who cry easily.
THE VERDICT: Hand me more John Green!

RATING: 8/10  Awesomesauce