After striking out on adult fiction this month (see Angelica and Middlesex), I decided to go to the library and check out a bunch of young adult/children’s literature. This is one of those I picked up, since I was a big fan of Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy, had heard lovely things about this book, and also it showed up on the Lone Star List (the Texas Library Association’s picks of the best books for grades 6-8). I was not disappointed.
This is a beautiful book both in words and in illustrations. It is the story of Conor O’Malley, a young boy whose mother is seriously ill. Conor suffers from a recurring nightmare that he refuses to acknowledge. One night, a monster comes to visit Conor, promising to tell him three tales in exchange for one truthful tale from Conor. This process helps Conor finally comes to terms with his very conflicted feelings about his mother’s illness. The ending of this book was perfect (and a bit tearful).
Ness is really masterful at dealing with big issues, in this case grief and loss. This book deals in particular with shades of gray (interestingly, it is illustrated in black-white-gray) and internal conflicts among those dealing with loss. Conor feels angry, sad, scared, guilty, and weary all at the same time. He can both want his mother to survive and want her to die. His truth is that life is not black and white– that he can still love his mother, even if he wants the struggle of her illness to end.
There isn’t really anything bad I can say about this book. It is a well-written, thoughtful, beautifully-illustrated, meaningful read.