The first thing you’ll notice when you pick this book up is the art. The cover image is dark and brooding, shades of grey and black, and the illustrations by Jim Kay continue inside, adding wonderful depth to the experience of reading.
I am so glad that they included the illustrations. This would have been an incredible book even without them, but they added a tension to every page of the book that I turned – I wanted to see what was on the next page, as well as to read how the story continued. The illustrations were perfectly paired to the mood and style of the book.
So – I loved, loved, loved this book. I am a big fan of Patrick Ness – I read his Chaos Walking series a couple of years ago and was amazed by it. But this is something else again. Ness has taken an idea that was developed by another children’s author, Siobhan Dowd, and following her early death, has nursed her concept into reality.
This is a simple story told exquisitely well.
Conor’s mother is receiving treatments for cancer. A monster begins visiting in his room – the monster is terrifying, powerful, and it rises from the yew tree he sees through his window. But it’s not the monster he’s been expecting or dreaming of. This monster comes to tell him stories. And in turn it wants something from him – the truth.
I grew up reading The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper and the monster in Ness’s book took me back to those stories. It carries strong resonances both of the Wild Hunt, and of the Greenwitch, a creature formed of woven branches that is cast into the sea each year and brings a night of chaos and danger to those ashore.
The monster is a thing of imagination become real, and its interactions with Conor become more and more integrated into his experiences and actions as the book goes on.
Ultimately, this is a book about the complexity and contradictoriness of grieving. Most of all, of the grieving that is done before a person we love is even gone.
I read this book through a dual lens: a someone whose father died of cancer when I was a child, and as someone who is now a mother, whose greatest and most urgent wish is just to live to see my own child grown. On both levels, this book spoke perfectly.
I found it profoundly moving and unforgettable.