"review" · fiction · horror/scary · juvenile lit · Lit · recommend · Tales · wondermous · young adult lit

{book} a monster calls

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd

Illustrated by Jim Kay

Candlewick Press, 2011.

hardcover, 206 pages (ages 12+)

I had been warned and still I read it before bed. I had been warned that hankies would come in handier than a well-lit room. That terror subsides for grief, and not just thematically.

While A Monster Calls is not what one would expect as a traditional R.eader’s I.mbibing P.eril (RIP) read it is perfect for autumn into winter. It has the ingredients of a RIP read: a monster does call, more than one actually, and there are nightmares, death, murder, witches, bleeding, and creepy tales… and there is an unnamed terror that when it comes to light you understand its horror, how it tormented the hero, how that monster could be more terrifying than the one inhabiting the yew tree. It’s just not chilling in the usual way, nor thrilling in any way other than the kind we find in a really well-crafted story. But it is one you shouldn’t stay up with while everyone has long since fallen asleep and all the lights but yours are out.

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting– he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd– whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself– Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.—publisher’s synopsis.

A Monster Calls is a thin volume and heavier than it looks, paper and pages weighted for gorgeous illustrations by Jim Kay. Patrick Ness doesn’t need any more words than he’s found the spin truly impressive tale of a boy dealing with his single mother’s illness. Conor’s father has a new family in the U.S., his maternal grandmother is hard, there are bullies at school, concerned teachers, an ex-close friend, and a monster who keeps showing up to have a talk with him—but then, of all the people who would “have a talk” this monster is the most relentless—nearly as relentless as the other monster.

The monster who walks, who comes to call is ancient and wild. He has many names (34) and can take many forms but he prefers the yew tree (a very complicated symbol). The monster finds stories to be powerful and as wild as he and he wants to hear Conor’s story. Conor is not keen on the idea, but he bides his time as the monster wants to share three tales of his own first. The tales are exquisite and their outcomes baffle Conor. As they find correlation with the things going on at home and school, Conor’s life adds further consideration to the tales—and deepen the mystery surrounding Conor’s repetitive nightmare.

There is an aspect to the story that brought to mind Adam Haslett’s short story “The Beginnings of Grief,” it is where Conor seeks out punishment, not actively per se, but he actually looks forward to blows from the school bullies. He wants to see justice mete out in the tales, the more destructive the better. But he seems immune from punishment from others (and eventually all), who always counter with: “What purpose could that possibly serve?” The question follows the Monster’s tales as well.   A Monster Calls and its tale(s) talks also about power, isolation, (in)visibility, belief and guilt—and to what end? That is what Conor wants to know and what he is not sure is possible or even deserved.

Much of the pleasure of the read is not only the clever weaving of this tale, but the characters who populate it–the Monster and Conor foremost. For all the weight they give the story, the characters drive the action that buoys the story pursuing it with mounting dread–and increasing relief. The more out of control things seem to spiral the greater the optimism that it will all soon be over, one way or another.

I know I have not done my best with this review as I really hope anyone and everyone would read it, at least once. It has the dark and the mischief and the raging that is so extraordinary to experience in Patrick Ness’ writing.

—-

recommendations: 12 & up, boys and girls, and not necessarily only someone experienced with or experiencing grief, fans of David Almond as he came to mind with this one; those who love tales.

A RIP VII read

{those loverly dark images belong to Jim Kay}

book list · chapter/series · guestblogger · N · recommend

{book list} n’s summer reading recs (pt1)

I’ve a guest-blogger today. Natalya (aka the daughter) promised me some posts and a couple weeks in, she hammers out one with 2-parts! Come back tomorrow for numbers 11-20 of her summer reading book recommendations. ~L

_________________________________________

Yes! Your favorite contributor on the blog is back! (And will hopefully keep updating and more lists and reviews.) This time around I have created a list of some of the best reads for summertime. They are listed from first to twentieth using the criteria of how light (cheerful) or humorous, how thick, how easy to read, and how enjoyable the book is overall. All the books are fantastic, even the last one is great, so you just read them all, or pick the ones that seem to appeal to you. Enjoy and continue to have a wonderful summer!

1. The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg (Aladdin 2004)

This is a quirky, fantastic book, featuring Margaret Rose and her uncles and her uncles’ towers. This book is about the realistic fact that all good things must come to an end and how, while her uncles are giving into it, Margaret is refusing to let go of the tower, no matter what. This story gives you the contented feeling that there is nothing that determination and creativity can’t conquer.

2. Letters from Campby Kate Klise (HarperTrophy 1999).

One thing I admire of this series of different books is that it never has pure narrative. Never. It consists of letters, menus, schedules, pictures, and more, but carries the plot better than some books with the traditional narrative. This book shows how evil summer camps may be and the bravery and resourcefulness of children. The clashing of characters and brothers and sisters is hilarious as they communicate by letters and eventually work together to fight the horrible camp counselors and owners. A fairly quick, but captivating read.

3. Savvyby Ingrid Law (Dial 2000).

What power would you inherit on your 13thbirthday? This is a book of magic, but in a practical, down-home sense. Our character is so well-created, you feel who she is, why she would do something. This is an awe-inspiring journey of a girl trying to go and save her daddy, with a–I promise–happy ending.

[omphaloskepsis review]

4. Chompby Carl Hiaason (Random House 2012).

Another glorious book from Carl Hiaasen! This book talks of endangered animals and blends a world of humorous circumstances and hilariously written characters as a popular wildlife TV show and animal trainers have to sort their differences and work together to find TV star Derek Badger while protecting a young girl from her abusive father who is hunting for her. You will be racing through it, praising Carl Hiaasen once more!

5. Because of Winn-Dixieby Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick Press 2000).

This popular summer classic runs a beautiful chill up my spine, at the beauty, and the characters; especially at the bittersweet ending. If you haven’t read it, ask yourself, “What am I doing? How in the world have I not read this book?” and start reading. If you have read it, read it again and maybe again. The friendship between the two characters and the more friendships that come from it will warm your heart more than imaginable.

6. Un Lun Dunby China Mieville (DelRey 2007).

This book is the thing that fantasy-lovers will drool over! The oddness of everything shows China Mieville’s creativity, while the comparisons with London (which will leave you laughing hours later) show his wit. He leads you in, making you believe this is a normal fantasy, using the usual characters, the usual plot, and suddenly turns everything around; leading you into the fantastic realm he has created. The rapturing story will suck you into it, only to reluctantly spit you back out when you finish the story!

[omphaloskepsis review]

7. The Westing Gameby Ellen Raskin (Puffin 1978)

This mystery has become a favorite of mine. It is a mystery not only to read, but for you to solve! (I’m still waiting for the board game though.) The characters Raskin creates and the ways each come about are surprisingly unique and clever and the resolution is fitting, perfect even, although it certainly won’t cross your mind immediately, if at all. Sit back and relax with this clever, cleverly written mystery.

8. My Name is Minaby David Almond (Hodder Children’s Books 2010).

This book is a companion to Skellig, but has its own story and is perfect just by itself. Mina, a free-spirited young girl, is fighting her way into the mix of what is normal, and what her own feelings are. Not only is it an enjoyable read, with a character you come to love, there are activities for you to do, perfect for filling your summer with!

[omphaloskepsis review]

9. Utterly Me, Clarice Beanby Lauren Child (Candlewick 2002).

This book is a favorite in the household, and beginning to a hilarious series. This story is about a young girl and looks like it is written by one, with the unique changing and positioning of the writing. Clarice Bean is a creative, outgoing, young girl, determined to be a detective, just like the main character of her favorite series. This book, while aimed towards the younger audiences, is perfect for both young and old.

10. Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disastersby Lenore Look, LeUyen Pham (illustrator) (Random House 2009).

I have to admit, this is a little kid’s book. Yes, it is. But you can’t be too old for a good book, can you? This little boy, Alvin, is scared of everything. Yes, this is a book in a series. The whole family is fairly quirky. His father curses in Shakespearean, his brother too. Even though this book is short, and might not be an award-winner; it is short and sweet, making you laugh your socks off. Trust me, children and young adult books can be the best type.

[omphaloskepsis review]

~Natalya

———–comeback tomorrow for 11-20 on the list of summer recommendations.

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · Lit · philosophy/criticism · poet-related · recommend · series · series · Uncategorized · wondermous

{book} my name is mina

Do you ever have the urge to write an author and transcriptionally hug and kiss them because of your profound gratitude for their having been born and having written this one particular book? I usually hug the book instead. And I’ve been hugging My Name is Mina the past few days. I should really write those living authors. I should write to David Almond.

I’d heard of My Name is Mina in passing. I think it was in a manner of whispers from the “Lucky Day” shelf in Juvenile Fiction at the Library. I picked it up the other day. I’m familiar with David Almond, should be good.  On the cover in small print: “One of the best novels of the last decade.” -Nick Hornby. I flipped open the cover and read:

Mina loves the night. While everyone else is in a deep slumber, she gazes out the window, witness to the moon’s silvery light. In the stillness, she can even hear her own heart beating. This is when Mina feels that anything is possible, that her imagination is set free.

A blank notebook lies on the table. It has been there for what seems like forever. Mina has proclaimed in the past that she will use it as a journal, and one night, at last, she begins to do just that. As she writes, Mina makes discoveries both trivial and profound about herself and her world, her thoughts and her dreams.

Award-winning author David Almond re-introduces readers to the perceptive, sensitive Mina before the events of Skellig in this lyrical and fantastical work. My Name Is Mina is not only a pleasure to read, it is an intimate and enlightening look at a character whose open mind and heart have much to teach us about life, love, and the mysteries that surround us. –inside jacket copy

I flipped pages and noted the unusual form. I balanced it on top of my seven volumes of Pluto. I was taking this book home to Natalya, whom instantly came to mind. She and Mina would be friends, minus the tree part. Well, maybe Mina could have talked her into climbing one. To be perfectly candid, I would linger in hopes of an invitation myself.

Then what shall I write? I can’t just write that this happened then this happened then this happened to boring infinitum. I’ll let my journal grow just like the mind does, just like a tree or a beast does, just like life does. Why should a book tell a tale in a dull straight line?

Words should wander and meander. They should fly like owls and flicker like bats and slip like cats. They should murmur and scream and dance and sing.

Sometimes there should be no words at all.

Just silence.

Just clean white space.

Some pages will be like a sky with a single bird in it. some will be like a sky with a swirling swarm of starlings in it. My sentences will be a clutch, a collection, a pattern, a swarm, a shoal, a mosaic. They will be a circus, a menagerie, a tree, a nest. Because my mind is not in order. My mind is not straight lines. My mind is a clutter and a mess. It is my mind, but it is also very like other minds. And like all minds, like every mind that there has ever been and every mind that there will ever be, it is a place of wonder. (11-12, though technically 3-4)

I could stop here, couldn’t I. But I won’t.

I had hopes with the first entry title page: Moonlight, Wonder, Flies & Nonsense. I found poetry upon the first page of written words, and I quickly found love within a short succession of pages; 4 and 5 and 6 pages in, pages 12-14. “I was told by my teacher Mrs. Scullery that I should not write anything until I had planned what I would write. What nonsense! […] I did want to be what they called a good girl, so I did try.” There are people who say they want to be a Writer, and there are people who say that they are. And I’m not mistaking Published Author for Writer and neither should you. My Name is Mina is for Writers, for Artists, Anyone, and for Birdwatchers.

I think people will want to give this book to youth they find “special.” And it is true that Mina is gifted and unusual (I think mostly due to her courageousness). You get that her mother is a profound influence, a mentor and guide; she herself is a Creative thinker. If for no other reason buy this for the sake of its portrayal of a loving, truly nurturing mother. “Raise your child in the way they should go,” comes to mind. Anyway, I think people should want to give this book to any young person. It is true that many people like Mina feel alone in their wondering and meandering and musing about themselves and the world; but the book does not impart a sense of “specialness” upon Mina outside of realizing a very rich character. It would assume every young person has (at the very most) an inner life, a distinction, and a loneliness. My evidence?

Now, I’m not going to say the book assumes absolute familiarity, Mina’s mind would be her own (11), but she will not be wholly unfamiliar on some intimate level (at least I desperately hope not). Better, Mina would challenge the reader to nurture their creativity, their wondering minds. If, like Mina, you’re not going to have it nurtured in a school setting or special programs, or unlike her, at home, be determined and a bit desperate and brave and find yourself an empty journal to meander your way through.

My Name is Mina has these fantastic “Extraordinary Activities” throughout. They are connected to her stories and contemplations where they are exampled, but they are meant to engage the reader, the creative. “Go to the loo. Flush your pee away. Consider where it will go to and what it will become” (124). “(Joyous Version) Write a page of words for joy. [or] (Sad Version) Write a page of words for sadness” (133). N did this one, pausing her reading to do so: “Write a poem that repeats a word and repeats a word and repeats a word and repeats a word until it almost loses its meaning. (It can be useful to choose a word that you don’t like, or that scares or disturbs you)” (97). N’s present essay project on present, future, past tenses: yep, the concrete poem Mina wrote on page 89 and following.

Mina is funny and serious and vulnerable and strong and restless and still and shy and friendly and outrageous and poignant and… I found her a beautiful character with which to become acquainted. Rather importantly, she is not charmingly quirky, or a cute puppy to indulge and smile over. She is deadly ridiculous.

If you’ve read David Almonds 1998 debut novel and awards-winning Skellig, you’ve met Mina. While you needn’t have read Skellig to enjoy My Name is Mina, My Name is Mina is cited as a prequel. You meet Mina from before Michael (in Skellig) moves onto her street. She sees him, occasionally observes, but there is a time before she finally introduces herself to him. Those familiar with Skellig will note references, people, and remember Mina. Those unfamiliar will not feel cheated, nor will they encounter any frustrating sense of inevitability like stories often written with another story in mind. You know those that are written to offer backstory. Mina isn’t a backstory. She is her own story.

When Mina writes that “the journal will grow just like the mind does” the book does take on this characteristic. She doesn’t date entries, but uses creative (summarative) titles. She’ll allude to an ending, and then move back and forth before she reaches it. “Afterwards, Mina tried to think of ways to tell the tale. Then she thought that maybe it’d be best to write it down, which is what she did” (58). She intentionally avoids stories until she feels ready to share them, still distancing herself from their discomfort; she’ll switch from 1st- to 3rd-person for similar reasons.  “Extraordinary Activity: (third-person version) Write a story about yourself as if you’re writing about somebody else. (first-person version) Write a story about somebody else as if you’re writing about yourself” (59). Some of the world about her is captured obliquely, what we learn of her mother’s is created thus. The book is a journal of Mina’s keeping after all, her preoccupations, her confessions, her stories, her own dramatic effects. She yells, she cries, she records poems and blank pages. Mina’s mind may be a mess, as she puts it, but the book is by no means jumbled into indecipherability. It doesn’t even feel unnatural. It doesn’t even exhaust the reader with cleverness–maybe because its less “clever” and more normal. Mina resists conforming, and I’m glad for it.

My Name is Mina culminates into an ending that isn’t remotely forced, or even inevitable for that matter. We have points we are alerted to look for, progressions we would see through, and then it slips into another story: Skellig. I was compelled to turn pages by my desire to spend time with Mina and the world she inhabits in her mind’s eye; to explore ideas of creation and death and life and belonging and cages and nonsense and story; to have fun and be brave and engage in healthy doses of nonsense and sorrow and long walks.

Thank you David Almond for your gift to the world, to my daughter, and to me. Thank you for introducing us to Mina.

———————————————-

recommendation…ages 10&up, human (or beast), lovers of humor, occasional irreverence, poetry you can understand, adventure, birds, nonsense, absolute sense… For those who’ve experienced a loss, a found, an inquisitive mind, an understanding adult, an equally strange friend, the principal’s office

Bart’s Bookshelf did a really excellent (and short) review, which I just found. Check it out.

———————————————–

My Name is Mina by David Almond

Delacorte Press, 2010

hardcover, 300 pages.

"review" · comics/graphic novels · fiction · juvenile lit · Lit · recommend · short story · Tales · young adult lit

Slog’s Dad

“Slogger, man,” I said. “Your dad’s dead.”

“I know that, Davie. But it’s him. He’s come back again, like he said he would.”

Do you believe in life after death? Slog does. He believes that the scruffy man on a bench outside the butcher shop is his dad, returned to visit him one last time. Slog’s friend Davie isn’t so sure. Can it be that some mysteries are never meant to be solved? And that belief, at times, is its own reward? The acclaimed creators of The Savage reunite for a feat of graphic storytelling that defies categorization. Eerie, poignant, and masterful, Slog’s Dad is a tale of astonishing power and complexity.

Slog’s Dad by David Almond

& Dave McKean (as Illustrator).

Candlewick Press, US edition 2011.*

64 pages, hardcover.

I know there is a lot of debate in the use of the term Graphic Novel over Comic or Long Comic, and sometimes Picture Book. Shaun Tan writes Picture Books for not just small children; he is unabashed with his use of the term.  David Almond’s Slog’s Dad leans close to Tan’s work with its pages of text alternating with pages of Illustrations (framed out and sequential) by Dave McKean. The Illustrated pages, after establishing a beginning, before Almond’s beginning, seems to plumb the emotional depths of the novel as well as the more magical aspects of Slog’s and his dad’s beliefs. However Slog’s Dad might be categorized descriptively, it is a marvelous creation, an incredibly effective storytelling device.

There are no chapters, the story is fairly short, a pint’s telling if you don’t gulp. The transitions between Almond’s text and McKean’s sequences are smooth and they aid one another in the piecing out of the text’s story. You understand that Slog’s Dad is dead, then you learn who he was and what happened before returning to the park and Davies doubts. The story leaves you on a fence, able to explain away either side using both text and culture as evidence. Slog’s Dad does wonder: “Can it be that some mysteries are never meant to be solved? And that belief, at times, is its own reward?” Davie’s skepticism is as strong as Slog’s embraced belief, and the Reader is placed in the middle—simultaneously comforted and discomforted by belief.

McKean’s images are without narrated text (if it has text at all), but are by no means silent. And he shifts his approach with each portion as it feels necessary to depict the story’s intentions. Rough line work with watercolor, to photograph under ink and paint, to—McKean’s signature is all over this piece. I really responded to the paper-cut dad sequences and the borealis dreaming; which were no less full of portent than the superhero section; the above sequence is terribly sad (helpless). Even with the shifts, McKean provides visual cues so you know which character is which. What is nice about how Slog’s Dad works is that McKean isn’t illustrating what was already set down in text by Almond. His is another portion of the story. While Almond uses Davie as his first person narrator, McKean uses Slog as his.

The writing is so clean and perfectly played out; quietly ambiguous in such artful ways when tension is necessary.It falls into nice rhythms. And I appreciate how Almond translates dialect alongside tension and sorrow and inevitable uncertainty.

One day late in August, Slog’s dad caught me looking. He waved me to him. I went to him slowly. He winked.

“It’s alreet,” he whispered. “I know you divent want to come too close.”

He looked down to where his legs should be.

“They tell us if I get to Heaven, I’ll get them back again,” he said. “What d’you think of that, Davie?”

I shrugged.

“Dunno, Mr. Mickley,” I said.

“Do you reckon I’ll be able to walk back here if I do get them back again?”

“Dunno, Mr. Mickley.”

I started to back away.

“I’ll walk straight out them pearly gates,” he said. He laughed. “I’ll follow the smells. There’s no smells in

Heaven. I’ll follow the bliddy smells right back her to the lovely earth.”

He looked at me.

“What d’you think of that?” he said. (28)

The scope of the novel physically is small. A small neighborhood, a humble worker (a binman (garbage man)), two boys who are best friends, a normal afternoon in the Spring. McKean begins the story by moving us from Universal proportions to a park bench with a stranger sitting on it. Or is he mapping Mr. Mickley’s return? Either way, the story is titled Slog’s Dad and it intimate in its portraiture. On an emotional and spiritual front, it isn’t decisive or interested in any grander supposition than this small piece of earth and these few people. As if grief is that personal. As if in the end we find our own ways of dealing with illness and death and what comes after for those living.

In the end, Slog’s Dad leaves the interpretations and their implications to the Reader. It’s just telling a story.

The recommended ages are 10 & up; I picked it up in the juvenile fiction section of the Library. Fans of McKean will undoubtedly want to have a look at this one. I think Slog’s Dad would speak to anyone at any point, so I wouldn’t just leave this one for a special occasion like grieving periods or spiritual upheavals. That said, I don’t know if everyone would care for this as I do (though I am sure some will like it more)–even as I think it a beautiful piece of Literature.

Images: (1) pgs 6-7; (2) US edition cover; (3) 32-33, there is a lovely repetitive use of image from this one. (4) 24-25. note the smile on sleeping Slog’s lips, he was crying on the previous pages. (5) 36-37; on the cover you see the painted Slog, and image taken from the first sequence with the cut-out dad, in this second sequence Slog has changed when nothing else has (except, strangely) in that (God’s eye) overhead shot of the first panel left). (6) UK edition cover, 2010.

*: as found at the back I though interesting: Slog’s Dad (text only) by David Almond has a 2006 copyright from when it was “commissioned as a short story by New Writing North and published in So What Kept You? (Flambard Press, 2006), then was runner-up in the 2007 National Short Story Prize, which led to its being published in The National Short Story Prize anthology (Atlantic Books, 2007), In Prospect magazine, and broadcast on BBC Radio 4.” Dave McKean’s illustrations have a 2010 copyright.