The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different.
Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Having only two novels published (A Swift Pure Cry in 2006 and The London Eye Mystery in 2007), Siobhan Dowd had already received many awards for them and was seen as one of the most promising authors for young adults. After she died in 2007 (of breast cancer), two other novels that were already completed before her death were published (Bog Child in 2008 and Solace of the Road in 2009).
But before passing away, Dowd was working on a book about a yew tree with special powers and a boy dealing with his mother’s terrible illness. It was to remain unfinished and unpublished but her editor talked to Patrick Ness about him finishing it. At first, he thought it was not a good idea: to finish the work and to be the voice of another author, especially one as accomplished and beloved as Siobhan Dowd, just did not seem right to him. Then what he did was to use her premisse and her characters to tell his OWN story, in his own way and voice, but a story that he thought Dowd would have liked!
That’s how this book was born. The book is powerful, moving and really feels sincere (which is very important in a story about telling the truth). Even if it is labeled as “young adult literature”, its subject matter is not light at all. The mother’s illness is never named but it is not hard to conclude what it is.
The novel is a horror story but, just as the monster that appears for the boy, it is not what you would have expected. The horror comes not from the monster but from the real world issues that the boy has to deal with: his mother’s illness is the real monster of the story. It’s the illness that threatens all the characters in different but equally powerful ways. It’s the fear of what it can do and all its consequences.
There are a few cliches: the boy is an outcast, he is constantly bullied at school, there’s a female friend who is “almost like a sister” and even an “evil” grandmother. But after a while you find out that they are all much more complex than you thought at first.
The monster itself is intriguing and you really don’t know what to expect from him. Which is very fitting for what is basically a wild force of Nature. What is it? Where does it come from? And why?
Oh! The book is illustrated by Jim Kay and his work is a perfect match for the material. He uses a lot of silhouettes, shadows and negative space. The dry brush strokes, drippings, splashings and textures show all the anger, pain and energy that the story portrays.
It really is a beautiful book in all aspects. It will make you think about your own life, it will make you worry about inevitable circumstances, it will make you angry about how unfair many things are but, most importantly, it will remind you of what really matter in life: love and the truth. More specifically: telling the important people in your life that you love them and being true to yourself!