Thursday, September 1, 2011


It's an incredibly beautiful day today, sunny and warm and still. Balmy end of summer day, the kind I thought were gone already.

I'm struggling a bit the last few days. Olivia is kind of abusing me, and I'm failing to rise to the challenge with any sort of parenting ability or fortitude. The day didn't sink into my skin at all, instead I felt like I didn't really deserve to be out in it. Going down the town was a bit of a trial. I thought I'd pop into the book shop and treat myself to a browse, and had the fancy that I might buy a nice sheet of wrapping paper.

I picked up a book but the first paragraph turned out to be about someone being taken to a quiet spot for some sort of punishment beating, possibly by the police, so I backed away from that one quickly before I got involved. I have a horrible habit of not being able to stop reading unpleasant stuff, because part of me always hangs on in the hopes that somehow every thing will be alright. But, well, torture stuff, I should just run away, and I did.

And then I picked up A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

This is a book about a boy dealing the fact that his mother is dying of cancer. He's having nightmares, there's a monster. His difficulties are punctuated by visits to the hospital, his mother's bravery, his resentment and fear and their hopes for a cure, though the disease is accelerating and nothing seems to be working.

The monster is actually forcing him to look at the terrifying reality he can't quite face and is a support in the end.

The book is illustrated in black and white, very beautifully and creepily.

The whole thing is very powerful, though it would be hard for it not to be,  given the subject matter. I skipped to the end, in the usual hope-for-a-happy-resolution, but it was clear that the resolution would be about coming to terms with fear and grief, rather than a happy ending. My eyes were full of tears and my nose was running, and I stopped pretending that I have any money to squander on a sheet of fancy wrapping paper and I wandered out onto the street, hoping I wouldn't meet anyone I knew.

It's obviously a brave, powerful book, and a hugely relevant one, given how many people are dying of cancer now. It's a good topic for a young adults' book. And yet. If your parent hasn't died or isn't dying of cancer, is it really good to read it and feel the fear of it happening? And if they ARE dying/have died of cancer, is it really a good idea to put yourself through the harrowing steps of your loss all over again? Is it really cathartic, or just punishing? I don't know how comforting the kid's realisation that he'd be alright in the end really is - it fell a little flat, to be honest. 'Alright' is pretty relative.

Maybe it's just me, though? Maybe other parents don't live in terror of leaving their children.

So, well, yeah. The book is really well done, well written, beautifully illustrated and put together. And I wish I hadn't looked at it.

I see from this review that the book was originally started by another writer, who died of cancer at 47, before she could finish it.


Ms. Moon said...

One of Stephen King's best books, one he wrote with Peter Straub, has a similar theme. The Talisman. It's a beautiful book.

morgor said...

the artwork is excellent.
disturbing, but excellent.

Mwa said...

I can't read sad stuff either. Maybe it's all about having little kids about. It's just a time of enough fear and worry without adding other possibilities. I feel guilty about looking away, but I just can't look.

Jo said...

This is it, Mwa, you know it's Worthy, but you have to ask yourself if it will benefit or harm you to read it.

morgor, it's a beautifully put together book, it really is. I hope to see more like it, combining illustration with longer texts, it's the way forward!

Mwa said...

Worthy. That's it.