A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay (Walker Books)

A Monster Calls‘ was a publishing sensation. It is the only book to have won its author and illustrator the Carnegie and Greenaway medals, of 2011, respectively. Yet it had inauspicious beginnings.

Author Siobhan Dowd determined to write the story in 2007, as she dealt with her own terminal cancer. She left the manuscript for Patrick Ness, to complete. He took it and made it his own, saying he felt that Siobhan Dowd had given him permission to ‘set it free, let it grow and change.’

Its liberty extended to Jim Kay’s illustrations. He was selected to add images from just one submitted interpretation. Jim Kay and Patrick Ness did not meet until after the book’s publication, in May 2011.

To write a story of a boy lost to the horror of his mother’s terminal cancer, with an absent father, distant grandmother, and negligent school community, is a tough call, and offers a tough read. There is nothing summery or sweetened here, but rough truths and real lives.

Connor is forced to admit to all with which he is coping through the reappearance of a monster yew tree, that tells him four allegoric stories at seven minutes past midnight, while the clock ticks down to Connor’s own story telling.

The book moved me so much that I encouraged my book group to read it, despite its ‘young adult’ placement. They, in turn, were awed and moved. Daniel Hahn, writing in the Independent said, ‘A Monster Calls’ is ‘brave, beautiful, full of compassion.’

Patrick Ness wrote the screenplay to the film of his book, and Jim Kay, again, provided illustrations. I saw it last week, somewhat trepidatiously, as anyone who has loved a book only to experience its loss on screen can understand. There was no sense of loss here, only a feeling that all involved have done the book, the story and Siobhan Dowd proud. It is a monumental piece of storytelling- brave, true and fulfilling. As the yew monster says to Connor O’Malley, ‘Stories are wild creatures. If you let them loose, who know what havoc they’ll unleash?’ Bronnie

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