A Monster Calls (Walker Books) is a contemporary classic, a work of art. It has had a poignant, yet illustrious history. Written by Patrick Ness from an idea by Siobhan Dowd and illustrated by Jim Kay, it is now available in a beautiful ‘Special Collector’s Edition’ with additional interviews about the upcoming movie by actors Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver and Felicity Jones. The book has won both the CILIP Carnegie Medal and the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal.
As Patrick Ness states in his Author’s Note, Siobhan Dowd “had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn’t have, unfortunately, was time.” He has refrained from copying her style and has made the story uniquely his own.
Thirteen-year-old Conor is suffering nightmares and always wakes at 12.07. A voice calls him, the voice of a monster yew tree in the nearby graveyard. The monster moves from its roots to fill the space outside Conor’s house and follow him. At first Conor thinks that the monster is a dream but it leaves poisonous yew berries on his floor. It says that Conor has called it.
The descriptions of the monster hint at its mighty power rather than reduce its mystery by portraying it literally. The tree tells three stories and Conor must tell the fourth, the story of not just any truth but his own truth; the thing of which he’s most afraid. Conor comes to realise that, “Stories are the wildest things of all … Stories chase and bite and hunt.”
The monster’s First Tale is about a king who remarries and whose new wife wants to keep the kingdom but is driven away by the prince. The Second Tale is about an Apothecary who punishes a parson for his lack of integrity and selfishness. The Third Tale is about invisibility.
Conor’s mother is suffering intensely during her current round of chemo treatment for cancer. He is hopeful of her recovery but the situation becomes so difficult that his grandmother comes to stay. Conor doesn’t get on with her, particularly when she suggests that he will be going to live with her. She’s not the kind, cuddly stereotypical grandma. Things are obviously becoming dire because his father returns temporarily from his new family in America.
At school Conor is a target for bully Harry and the destruction Conor thinks that he wreaks in his dreams also starts happening in reality.
Jim Kay’s black and white illustrations are sophisticated and allusive. Using spiky lines and textures, amorphous shapes and layers, they intimate and suggest fear, grief and nightmare.
Young Adult and Mid-grade novels are being gobbled up by kids and young adults almost faster than they can be cooked up. The exhilarating storylines and make-you-laugh-hate-cry predicaments I discover between the covers of YA and junior novels are repeatedly rewarding, and contrary to the views of some of my adult-only reading friends, capable of imparting deep satisfaction with tales of intense emotion and believable fantasy. These novels tell it like it is, with a no hold bars attitude and formidable spunk that instantly cements our dislike or admiration for the heroes within. They are quick and honest reads to invest in, which is why they are so perennially popular. Here are some you might like to eat up, if you can wrest them off your teenager’s bookshelf.
Mid-Upper Primary Reads
The Vanilla Slice Kid takes the custard-pie-in-the-face gag to a death defying new level. Chockers with slap stick humour and oozing with more pink spew than you can catch in a wheelbarrow, this midgrade novel is sure to crack a smile on the dials of 6 – 11 year-olds. Archie is a kid with envious abilities; he can shoot sweet sticky treats from the palms of his hands. Only trouble is he hates cakes and has a set of parents and one hysterically insane General bent on exploiting his super talent. As the General’s domination of the world draws closer and Archie’s own life hangs in a gooey mess of trifle and fruitcake, Archie must rapidly decide who to trust and what to eat. Deliciously good fun, Adam Wallace and Jack Wodhams know how to whet young appetites. Liberally sprinkled with wacky line drawings by Tom Gittus, The Vanilla Slice Kid is one satisfying read.
Crossing by Catherine Norton had me engrossed from start to finish. This softly dystopian drama is an interesting reflective exploration of the corruption and discord that can develop in human society no matter how long we spend on this planet and an interesting suggestion that history is ever capable of repeating itself. Echoes of WWII communistic control reverberate throughout with the most obvious similarity being the Wall, which separates 12 year-old Cara’s reality from a future she has never dared think about before let alone attempt to strive for. Norton’s gripping narrative echoes with prophetic what ifs, encourages individualism, and reminds us to never ‘let them wall your mind.’
Talk Under Water by Kathryn Lomer is a breezy light-hearted read about a couple of teenagers facing not so breezy light-hearted experiences. Seems talking under water is easier than you think (especially if you are deaf), but talking above it about your innermost desires and trepidations is not quite as smooth sailing. Life in the teenage world can be ‘as simple and as complicated as that’ accordingly to Will who is wrest from his mainland home to Tasmania on the whim of his disillusioned divorced dad. When he meets Summer, his world begins to brighten, however her reluctance to share her deafness with him for fear of thwarting their budding relationship creates confusion and misunderstanding deeper than the Bass Strait. Written in an expository and introspective style, Talk Under Water is a beautiful observation of being young and being deaf, literally giving diversity a face and voice.
One by Sarah Crossan is searingly beautiful. I’m almost lost for words. Poignant, painful and playful, Crossan invites us to spend the end of summer and beyond with conjoined twins, Tippi and Grace. It’s an experience you are not likely to forget in a hurry. Explicit yet elegant, this verse novel has the power to move you effortlessly from mirth to heartbreak with a solitary syllable. Written with sensitivity and extraordinary candour, One is one of the more ‘grown up’ verse novels I’ve read yet possesses all the succinct expressive precision I’ve come to expect and enjoy of them. Crossan examines the one question: what does it mean to want and have a soul mate? Is the battle for identity and dignity worth the loss of sisterhood love? Unequivocally compelling and wrenching and highly recommended.
Further embracing the notion of diversity is Erin Gough’s *The Flywheel. This upper high school read is LOL funny and tummy turning cringe-worthy (Not because of the writing – Gough’s narrative is prose perfect. More because of the excruciatingly embarrassing and difficult situations 17 year-old Delilah must struggle her way through.) I had not expected The Flywheel to delve head first into the impenetrable tangles of unwanted responsibility, sexual identity, social expectations and love with such wild abandon nor so entertainingly. Thoroughly absorbing characters, snappy wordplay and enough fraught situations coupled with realistic downers kept me guessing how life was ever going to pan out for Dancing Queen Del. The Flywheel (café) is the type of place I’d like to return to. Definitely worth a visit.
It is near impossible to put into words just how ingenious Patrick Ness’sThe Rest of Us Just Live Here is. Ness writes with such acerbic wit and abandon in such an incredibly controlled, dagger-precise way, it actually becomes a sheer joy to be caught in the swirling angst of so many pre-grad teenagers. This is the penultimate tale of the underdog finessed with consummate care and at times an irreverence you cannot help but admire. Ness’s mixed posse of Unchosen Ones led by Mr McOrdinary, Mikey barely have to whisper for attention yet are heard with stinging clarity. They banally attempt to get on with their lives and graduate however, the Chosen Ones’ inability to deal with the Big Bad continually claims their attention. Explosively wicked, you must experience this (Ness) for yourself.
*You’ll note a fair whack of these terrific reads are by Aussie authors and for some, this is their first novel, made possible by such incentives as The Ampersand Project. When you purchase and read an Aussie title, you are not only supporting the further creation of more awesome stories but you are in no small way ensuring the survival of a distinctly unique and vital Australian industry. Read all about Boomerang Books commitment to #ByAustralianBuyAustralian here.
I’m just back from a tour of (mostly indie) London bookshops.
My visit to the Tower of London was enhanced after seeing Sonya Hartnett’s Children of the King, which alludes to the missing princes held captive by their uncle Richard III in the Tower, in a Notting Hill bookshop.
Australian YA, as well as children’s and adult literature, held its head high with sightings of Amanda Betts’ brilliant Zac and Mia, (which I reviewed here) and works by Kirsty Eagar and Melina Marchetta. I was so pleased to see my favourite Marchetta, On the Jellicoe Roadon the shelves there. Watch out for the movie.
And Jaclyn Moriarty has had a strong following overseas, which her own country is finally catching up with now she is winning YA awards here. Her sister, Liane’s Big Little Lies, the best seller for adults, was everywhere.
Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island, published here as Sea Hearts was visible and I also noticed another crossover series, Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearn.
It was great to see some of the incomparable Isobelle Carmody’s stunning YA works. Along with many others, I can’t wait for The Red Queen, the final in the Obernewtyn Chronicles, which is being published this November. This series is world class and dearly loved. How will Elspeth Gordie’s story conclude?
Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summerrules the world. It was everywhere, and even featured in bookstore displays.
Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thiefstill has a high profile but Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effectfor adults seemed to be even more popular. Like Rules of Summer, Rosie was everywhere, which makes me anticipate my upcoming conversation with Graeme at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival in September even more eagerly. It is so difficult to write humour and we spent a car trip recalling anecdotes from his books and laughing aloud.
Australian children’s books were highly visible, particularly multiple titles by Morris Gleitzman, including his holocaust series beginning with Once.
The latest in the series, the chilling Soon, is now available in Australia, although not quite yet in the UK. Andy Griffiths’ and Terry Denton’s Treehouseseries was as ubiquitous as London’s red, double decker buses and John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprenticeseries was also popular. I spied books by Emily Rodda and it was a thrill to see Anna Fienberg’s stand-alone children’s novel, Louis Beside Himself, as well as her Tashiseries, illustrated by Kim Gamble.
Some Australian adult authors taking shelf space were Peter Carey (Amnesia), David Malouf, Evie Wyld (All the Birds, Singing), Hannah Kent (Burial Rites), Tim Winton (Breath), Steve Toltz (Quicksand) and Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
A few standout OS YA authors on the shelves included Mal Peet (who I’ve written about here), Frances Hardinge (Cuckoo Songand Fly By Night) and Patrick Ness, whose latest YA novel, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, will be available in August. It’s one of his best.
Honestly, Patrick Ness couldn’t have ended the Chaos Walking trilogy in a more perfect way.
The first two books in the series, The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer, stand out for their inventiveness, their fierce pace, and their vivid characters. Monsters of Men meets the standard, then ups the stakes, then ups them again, and then again. There are a billion points in the story where I didn’t think Ness could ratchet up the tension any more – and then he does.
Avoid spoilers, if you can. I’m not giving anything away, so, vague summary ahead: Monsters of Men is about young people coming into power, guided by those who are in power (and who, in most cases, have been corrupted by it). Our heroes Todd and Viola are mostly back together again, in the sense that they share many more scenes than they did in The Ask and the Answer and find ways to communicate even when they’re apart, but they’re still constantly buffeted and battered by the competing forces of Mistress Coyle and Mayor Prentiss.
Who, by the way, is the strongest and most difficult character. Is he really the villain of this story, or is he its hero? Ness doesn’t answer that question (and nor should he), instead crafting a character who is at once charismatic, paternal, untrustworthy and chilling. Which is just the way it should be. Of all the characters in Chaos Walking, the Mayor will stay with me the longest.
(And maybe Manchee. Love that dog.)
Kudos to Ness for avoiding the drippy sentiment that often plagues finales (Deathly Hallows, anyone?), but he does cheat a few times: a lot of the support characters feel stand-in-ish, and a couple of the plot twists seem like they’ve been thrown in for shock value rather than to enhance the story. (Particularly the very final twist, which came this close to ruining the whole series for me. Ultimately, though, Ness turns it into a very satisfying conclusion.)
I’ve been lucky with the series: I only started reading it in the month leading up to Monster’s release, meaning I didn’t have to wait a year between instalments like everyone else. I literally read all three entries one after the other. So I’m not sure what the feeling is in the Chaos Walking fanbase – but I have a feeling they’ll like the final book as much as I did.
Ness-philes, get excited – this month, each of our Boomerang Books Members are in the running to win a signed copy of 2008 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize Winner’s latest, and a signed preview of his upcoming trilogy-ender. The full prize list includes:
You have until Friday 9 April to enter a special Patrick Ness competition. We’re giving away… an extract. While it doesn’t sound like much, this is actually a special preview of Ness’ yet-to-be-released Monsters of Men, and it’s signed! All you have to do is email me, and in 20 words or less, tell me why you should be the lucky Patrick Ness fan that gets it.
KEEP AN EYE OUT…
Those that have been reading the blog know how enamoured I was with the Gone book trailer, well, later in the month, we’ll be giving 10 copies away to Boomerang loyalists, so keep your eyes peeled for details.
Inspiration is a tricky thing. It comes and goes, and mostly, its habits are unpredictable. If I knew how it all worked, believe me, my second novel would’ve been out by now. Usually someone in front of me has to do something stupid, or something horrible has to happen to me, and when I stop whingeing long enough to laugh and think, ‘Gee, that’d make a great story…’ – inspiration happens, and the words aren’t far off.
I’m not one of those gushing author fanboys who runs up to authors saying, ‘Wow, you inspire me so much.’ In fact, I was saving that baby up for when I met Terry Pratchett for the first time… but I found myself saying it to an author I’d only just met, and whose work I hadn’t read (obviously, since then, I’ve given it more than a glance, and it’s pretty awesome). That author was Patrick Ness, and that was Tuesday.
Book launches are great. They’re inspiring. I haven’t been to many (in fact, I’ve been to two, my own – which was pretty darn inspiring – and Melina Marchetta’s). It wasn’t being surrounded by peers in the industry (and making an awkward spectacle of myself as I was introduced to authors I’d been a fan of for a long time, and was trying to remain calm as I told them about a little blog I wrote for) that inspired me.
In fact, blame for inspiration rests solely on Melina Marchetta.
I haven’t known Melina very long. I met her a year ago. I was on a panel with her, scared to death of how I was going to introduce myself to the Melina Marchetta when the closest I’d ever come to reading her books was watching five minutes of Looking For Alibrandion Channel Ten. So, I approached her, ready with a rehearsed and completely fake, ‘Whoa, your writing shaped my youth!’ (You know, the stuff she hears all the time.) Before I’ve started the spiel, she calls me by my first name (I haven’t introduced myself) and says how much she loved a short story I wrote in high school, and that she used to show it in class when she taught English. Cut to me thinking: ‘Melina… likes… my… writing?’ over and over and over. In fact, before our session, she didn’t even give me time to spew out the spiel. She just kept talking about me. I was struck by how normal, and humble, and nice, someone whose success can only be measured with ‘mega’s could be.
And Book Launch Melina was no different. Someone told me once, you’re not measured by how you handle the bad times, but the grace and humility you exhibit during the good times. There’s no doubting that, with her current career position, Melina is experiencing the good times. And you would never guess it. Having, since the panel, read all of her work, and knowing how successful she’s been (on account of my not living under a rock), I don’t know how someone can be as level-headed as she is.
Her writing inspires me as a writer (I hesitate to use the word ‘fellow’), but her personality, her warmth, and general Melinaness inspires me as a person.
Congratulations, Melina. Everybody here at Boomerang Books wishes you all the best with The Piper’s Son, and we’re already anticipating Book #5.
Tuesday: Patrick Ness speaks at Sydney Uni
To say Patrick Ness is popular would be to understate the fact considerably. I’d never read any of his work, but a lot of you have emailed me about him, so I thought I’d go along to see him speak (my class in the adjacent building finished at 6, he started at 6 – it was practically fate). I went expecting a room filled with teens, but what I found was a room filled with peers, authors I recognised, publishers, editors, and, granted, some teens.
“I think a reader can tell if the writer is joyous.”
After considering how daunting a task speaking without a topic is, he settled on establishing his own topic: joy. He said he never liked talking about author stuff, and proceeded to talk about his process: joy, joy, joy. To write is to write free of the mechanics of writing, and to just write joy.
It was great to hear such an acclaimed writer (he won the Guardian Prize), talking about writing for young adults like I do, albeit, with more flair, and more experience to back him up. It made me almost feel like I knew what I was talking about…
Namely, if you’re writing for kids: don’t write “lesson” narratives, with “issues” tick-boxes to work your way through, because they don’t equal good novels.
“Write for the teenager you were. If you think you were atypical, well, the point of being a teenager is being atypical.”
He emphasised not worrying about the genre and the audience. Cue the subtle glances from my editor – she was in the row in front, and had told me that exact thing about a bajillion times in the past year.
Just focus on joy.
“Write with joy, everything else will follow.”
The words made me want to whip out my pen and pad right then and there – well, my pen and pad were out (I was taking notes for Boomerangers), so I wanted to turn the page and plough through my new book then and there. He was really quite sensational to hear speak, and judging by what I’ve read of his work since, he has the words to back him up.
He made me want to write again, and not write to get the novel done, but write for joy.
Fans of both Patrick Ness and Melina Marchetta should keep their eyes on the blog, we have some really great prizes for you coming very soon. Signed prizes.
Patrick Ness is the author of the Chaos Walking trilogy, which includes the award-winning The Knife of Never Letting Go (2008), The Ask and the Answer (2009) and Monsters of Men (2010).Join him on Tuesday, March 9, 6-7.30pm for a unique FREE event at the University of Sydney. Seats are limited, bookings essential. Email your full name and contact number to [email protected]
1. How did you first get the idea for the Chaos Walking books?
I always say they started with a serious idea and a stupid idea. The serious idea was about information overload, that the world is already pretty noisy with mobile phones, the internet, networking sites, etc. The next logical thought was, what if you couldn’t away at all? That’s where Noise came from. And the stupid idea is that I don’t like books about talking dogs because they never talk like an actual dog would talk. So I thought it’d be funny to write one the way I always thought my own dog growing up would talk. It was good fun. And from those two ideas, a story started to form.
2. Did you always intend for the Chaos Walking books to be aimed at a young adult audience, and what is appealing about writing for this demographic?
The story itself kind of told me it was for young adults rather than the other way around, which I think is probably how it should really go. I was as surprised as anyone. What’s appealing is that teenagers aren’t snobs! If you respect them and tell a good story, they’ll follow you anywhere. But you do have to tell that good story, so you’ve got to be on the ball all the time. It’s a great challenge, very liberating, too.
3. Who are some of your favourite young adult books and authors?
There are some excellent young adult writers around, aren’t there? People like Meg Rosoff, Marcus Sedgwick, Terry Pratchett, Siobhan Dowd, Mal Peet, I could go on…
4. I’m intrigued by Noise and how it affects the men of New World. Do they feel disempowered by it? Would New Elizabeth be a safe and happy place if it wasn’t for the Noise?
Well, I tried to show that there could be different reactions to Noise, with Prentisstown being the worst. But as they journey along, Todd and Viola see places like Farbranch where it’s not so bad or Carbonell Downs where it’s less good but plausible. And then there’s Haven, where things are complicated. It’s what you’d ask of any place, I think; safety and happiness are tenuous things that need to be worked for against our natural fears.
5. Mayor Prentiss came to New World as a settler. Were his intentions on setting out to wage war and dominate, or did he start out as a good man?
I suspect the answer’s messier than just one or the other. People never get to power by a single action or intention; there are opportunities along the way that you can take or not take and those build on each other. In fact, it’s the theme of The Ask and the Answer about how you can even take what seem to be a series of small right decisions and still end up possibly doing something terrible. I suppose it’s about how many compromises you’re willing to make before you lose your humanity. As for the Mayor, maybe he had a predisposition, but you still need the circumstances to help you along. I suppose the crux of it is that I don’t think anyone is beyond redemption. You have to have hope for everyone. Now, whether they want to be redeemed is a whole other question…
6. Is Todd the rightful president of New World?
Ah, well, is anyone the “rightful” president of anywhere? It’s that old axiom that wanting to be in power should automatically disqualify you from ever having it. Todd would probably be an excellent president of New World, but he’d never want to be it (which is probably what would make him an excellent president and so on around the circle…)
7. How would you describe the intense relationship between Todd and Viola?
They learn that they really have to rely on one another, in a way far beyond just a simple teen romance. They’re lost people who found one another, and they may not being able to understand all the depths of that just yet, but I think they’re more than smart enough to know how important the other is to them. And that’s because they’ve each earned it, through hard circumstance.
8. Your upcoming book tour includes stops in Australia. Have you been to Australia before, and do you have any favourite Australian authors?
My very favourite author of all time is Australian, Peter Carey, and I end up reviewing a lot of Australian fiction for UK newspapers because I’ve read so much of it, like Tim Winton and Murray Bail. I can even reference Patrick White with confidence! Peter Carey is fantastic, especially at implying a larger imagined universe than is just in the particular book. I love that. And I have been to Australia, way back in 1993 when I was a fresh-faced college lad. Can’t wait to get back there.
9. Briefly – what we can expect from Monsters of Men?
Hmmmmm: War, surprises and a killer ending. It may not be what you expect!
10. If there was one thing that you wanted your readers to take away from Chaos Walking, what would that be?
I always worry that if I start out thinking in terms like that then I end up writing a lesson rather than a story. Hopefully, if I pay proper attention to what the story wants to be and try to make it the best story possible, then there will be things in there for the reader to take away anyway. I think that’s the best way; that way you never preach. Having said that, looking back on the books now, they’re probably most about how hope lies in the people we love, that if you can find someone to count on and who counts on you, then that’s probably the best meaning life is going to get. A hopeful message.
This novel takes off with the speed of NASA spacecraft; the events of the previous title are picked up and tossed over the very able shoulders of Todd and Viola. Having successfully taken over Haven (now New Prentisstown), the noxious President Prentiss has decided to use our two industrious kids to further his political gain with those on the planet and those soon to arrive.
The Ask and the Answer proves that the second title in a trilogy can be a strong one, surpassing the first title in my eyes. The pace is thrilling, the events are breathtaking and the character development is supreme. As the opponents and supporters of Prentiss’ evil plans swell in numbers, it’s less of a good versus evil conflict but more about what one might do to retain a hold on their own morals, identity and life. What happens in New Prentisstown can be read on many levels but the political edge of this novel made this a fascinating read. The Answer, New Prentisstown’s guerrilla movement, could be seen as the French Resistance of this world with Prentiss himself treading the line between genuine horror and charm as the self-determined leader of the planet.
Viola and Todd are immediately separated as the events of The Knife of Never Letting Go take effect. Viola is whisked away to recover while Todd is held captive as he’s the one preventing citizens of Prentisstown (the original) from being whole. Ness has changed this novel up, having the perspective jump between Viola and Todd and it works fantastically. Their allegiance to one another allows the President to work each of them like puppets. While Todd survives by turning in on himself and taking on more responsibility with the Spackles, Viola is left anchorless, watching another tussle for control of the planet through less-than-noble means.
This book has many moments that are genuinely discomforting and horrifying – whether the annihilation of captives, the banding of citizens or the physical and psychological torture inflicted under the dictator’s control. Ness has a great way of making the page and its characters come alive through clear language and the deeper character study that is undertaken makes the world all the more richer. That being said there is a certain repetitiveness, perhaps as I have read both titles uninterrupted. Todd and Viola continue to take turns rescuing one another, calling out each other’s names and stupidly failing to realise they are being lied to over and over again (you would think they would catch on after the third time.) But the alternative perspectives ably assist in showing how different factions are dealing with occupation, assimilation and rebellion.
The Terminator-esque preacher has been done away with and as a result there is larger focus placed upon President Prentiss, his son and the depths people will plunge to in their need to live. The villains are all fantastically portrayed, not as evil incarnate (though that could be argued), but as individuals utter convinced they are doing what is best. Conviction makes the best kind of baddies and this novel has many to choose from. Of particular note, the relationship between Todd and Davy was one that evolved continually throughout the novel. Davy’s arc was one from two-dimensional villain to a friend by the end which boggles the mind and impresses the heck out of me. The characters, old and introduced, are what make this novel.
Terrorism, oppression and dishonesty are a large part of the narrative. Todd struggles to retain a sense of self while making his thoughts private as many take the cure for The Noise. Both Viola and Todd are seen as their self-appointed mentors as leaders and are regarded both respectfully and brutally in their “education” of those fighting for the survival of themselves and their ideals. This is what great dystopia should aim to be. An absolutely thought provoking, entrancing and thrilling read.
Adele Walsh, book blogger of Persnickety Snark fame and trusted reviewer, recently selected her best young-adult reads of 2009.