From a premise left by author Siobhan Dowd before her untimely death, Ness has crafted a nuanced tale that draws on elements of classic horror stories to delve into the terrifying terrain of loss.
When a monster in the form of an ancient yew tree crashes through his bedroom walls after midnight, calling his name, Conor is remarkably unperturbed—“Shout all you want,” he says. “I’ve seen worse.” Indeed he has, in a recurring nightmare of someone slipping from his grasp, a nightmare whose horror he keeps to himself. Daily life is intolerable, as everyone from teachers to bullies treats him as though he were invisible since his mother began chemotherapy. The monster tells Conor three stories before insisting that Conor tell one himself. Asserting that “stories are the wildest things of all,” the monster opens the door for Conor to face the guilty truth behind his subconscious fears. Ness brilliantly captures Conor’s horrifying emotional ride as his mother’s inevitable death approaches. In an ideal pairing of text and illustration, the novel is liberally laced with Kay’s evocatively textured pen-and-ink artwork, which surrounds the text, softly caressing it in quiet moments and in others rushing toward the viewer with a nightmarish intensity.
A poignant tribute to the life and talent of Siobhan Dowd and an astonishing exploration of fear. (Fiction. 11-14)