It's funny how some authors are capable of producing both books that astound you and books that bore you to death. For example, I'm dragging my way through Patrick Ness' The Knife of Never Letting Go and hating myself for it...but earlier this week, I devoured the beautifully illustrated A Monster Calls.
One night, Conor wakes up to find that the yew tree in a nearby cemetery has turned into a story sharing monster. This plot could be hilarious or maybe creepy, but when you take into account the fact that Conor's mother has cancer...well, let's just say you should keep a tissue on hand because the last two pages DESTROYED MY HEART. It's also extra sad when you read the author's note at the beginning, which attributes the idea to Siobhan Dowd, an author who died before she was able to write the story.
I don't really know how to review it apart from saying it's really well done. It's a lyrical exploration of grief and acceptance, accompanied by gorgeous black-and-white illustrations by Jim Kay (who, you may recall, is doing the official illustrated editions of Harry Potter). There are moments of frustration or anger that are palpable, made even more poignant by the sketches creeping along the margins or the double page spreads of a dark looming figure. At first glance, I assumed it was a horror story...and while it is, in a way, horrific, it's more tragic-in-a-human way than scary in a monster-under-your-bed way.
It reminded me of J.K. Rowling's Tale of Three Brothers, and, like the animated sequence in Deathly Hallows, the illustrations add to the overall experience. A film adaptation is coming out this fall and it will be interesting to see how the story is handled on the big screen. One thing I do know is that I'll be sitting in the audience, quietly sobbing.