Saturday, July 30, 2011

While I'm on my Patrick Ness Love Fest

During my recent visit to my family in Newcastle Upon Tyne in the UK, I got in to a lengthy discussion about good literature with the young adult section book buyer at the Waterstones there. (Waterstones is kind of like Barnes and Noble but classier). Obviously Patrick Ness' name came up pretty quickly and she pointed me in the direction of his new title A Monster Calls. There is an interesting, heartbreaking, and ultimately heartwarming story behind the story. The original idea came from a children's writer Siobhan Dowd who died of breast cancer before she was able to write the book. Dowd's notes were handed to Ness to write the story. As Ness explains in his Author's Note, he never met Dowd but knew her from her books (probably best know in the US for The London Eye Mystery) "She had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn't have, unfortunately was time." (Ness, 2011).
Whoever the genius was that handed Ness those notes deserves a standing ovation. It's a haunting masterpiece of tension despite the fact the outcome is inevitable from the beginning. Ness does what he does best - lets characters be complicated, flawed, and yet still capable of great things. There is no black or white in the tales Ness weaves. Nothing is ever quite what it seems and no one can be defined as either one thing or another. As the monster explains to young Conor, who is trying to come to terms with his conflicted feelings over his mother's suffering "...human beings are complicated beasts...How can a queen be both a good witch and a bad witch? How can a prince be a murderer and a saviour?...How can a person be wrong-thinking but good hearted?" Conor feels guilty because in his heart he wants his mother to die so her suffering, and in many ways his own, can end. His guilt is tearing him apart. The monster has come to save him, and not his mother as Conor believed, by forcing him to speak the truth. "You do not write your life with words, the monster said. You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do."
What you need to do dear reader is get out there and read everything Patrick Ness has ever written. ASAP. Also, you will need a hanky for the last two chapters. I wept through them both.
The Guardian's Review of A Monster Calls.
Siobahn Dowd's Obituary from the Guardian

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