(originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/26126.html)
I've been wanting to read this book for AGES. AGES I tell you. It first caught my attention when I read reviews for it on The Book Smugglers and on Books I Done Read, who both gave it stellar reviews. That, compounded with the fact that the book was SUPER SAD (I kind of like sad books that do so without being exploitive -- I find them cathartic) and it has PICTURES! Really neat and spooky looking pictures that look like this:
How cool looking is that? It didn't hurt that it was written by Patrick Ness. I read and loved his book The Knife of Never Letting Go which I read and reviewed back in April of this year.
However, getting this book proved to harder to get than I anticipated. The book store I work didn't get it in at the end of September when it was released, but it WAS on order. World's Biggest Book Store in Toronto had it, and Jacob offered to buy it for me, but I was all like: "Naahh, my store should get it in soon -- it's on order." Of course, IT DIDN'T come in soon and by the time I figured that out I was heading to Toronto to visit Jacob anyway, so I decided to get it then.
All this preamble is just to give you all an idea of just HOW excited I was to read this. You'd think all this anticipation would have set me up to be disappointed. I was kind of worried about that when I did have the book in my hands actually.
I was so very, very wrong.
Remember when Ness did that thing (won't say because it's spoilery) in The Knife of Never Letting Go and it broke everyone's heart? If it didn't break your heart, it's probably because you don't have one. ANYWAY, this book is very much like that ALL THE TIME. See, Connor, the main character, his mother is dying of cancer. And his parents are divorced and his dad lives in America with his new family. He's got his grandma, but she drives him CRAZY. Not only that, but he's plagued by a recurring nightmare, he's being bullied at school, and all of a sudden, the yew tree in his backyard starts turning into a monster and weird shit happens.
I know I've mentioned it several times on this blog, but I am the world's biggest cry-baby. It really doesn't take a lot to get the waterworks going for me. So when I say that this book made me bawl my eyes out, it might not have a lot of weight. But GUYS, I cried HARD and for a long time. The last quarter of this book was me just curled up on Jacob's computer chair, with a pillow bunched on my lap so I shove my face into it and just cry. It wasn't even just Connor's mom dying of cancer that was sad.. it was watching Connor dealing with it. And the nightmare.. it's not revealed until the end of the novel what the nightmare is, but you obviously know it's about Connor's mom and about his fear of her dying. But there's an extra little revelation that accompanies that that broke my heart in two. I tear up just thinking about it.
Of course, there's also the monster. This creature is creeeeepy looking, but he doesn't want to hurt Connor. He wants to tell him three stories and then to be told one in return, which is supposed to be Connor's "truth". The stories that he tells Connor are simplistic in style, but they're messages/morals are not what you or Connor expect. One of my favorite literary devices is stories-within-stories, so I ate these little gems up. They tie into the overall theme of the novel perfectly as well -- not everything is at it seems, life is full of a greys and not solely blacks and whites -- that kind of thing. It's great, and adds a layer of complexity to the story.
I also really loved how Connor's encounters with the monster bled (sometimes hemorrhaged) into his real life. It felt kind of like the movie Pan's Labyrinth. Connor's "real life" always takes the forefront though; how he deals with his absent father, his sometimes over-bearing grandmother, the bullies at school, and his ex-best friend who told everyone at school about his mom's condition. It was all very visceral, and watching Connor trying to deal with everyone tiptoeing around him was heart-wrenching. When he would beg in his mind for someone to yell at him, get mad at him, treat him like a normal teenager, my heart broke for him (sorry, I've been using a lot of metaphors regarding my heart being damaged a lot in this review, but they feel so APT. My chest literally hurt reading this novel.)
The writing was sparse, but it had a kind of fairy tale feel to it that complemented the story well. It worked very well in correlation with the stories the monster tells; they complemented each other perfectly.
When I was done reading this book, I was drained. I had been crying for about 30 minutes straight and the ending just gave me an emotional wallop. But you know what? It felt good afterwards. Like Connor, I felt like I had a shed a weight off my shoulders I didn't even know existed. When I mentioned earlier that I found sad stories cathartic, this book fit that bill perfectly. It was a very rewarding read.
Final Verdict: Really, what more is there to say? This book is amazing and it met all my expectations and then some. Be warned that this story is a tear-jerker, but it handles the subject matter (mother dying of cancer) with heart and honesty that never felt exploitative. There are stories within the story that are rich and layered and throw you curve balls in their morals. The illustrations throughout the book are really cool and creepy looking and encapsulate the feel of the story perfectly. The writing was also very fitting for the story and made this read all the more heart-wrenching. I was emotionally drained when I put the book down, but I felt a sense of relief too.. This is one of the best books I have ever read and is definitely going to be one of my favorites this year.