Fantasy (or low fantasy) isn't a genre I'd normally go for but there was something about this book that made me willing to stray away from my more than comfortable genre of Young/New Adult fiction into the unfamiliar territory of Children's Fantasy. Due to the fact I had never read anything by either Siobhan Dowd (whose idea the story is based upon), or Patrick Ness (who I only realised was such an amazing author after seeing him on the news one morning, while promoting another book, More Than This, which is on my must-read-soon list), I began reading this book expecting nothing in particular but just to read another book, my oh my was I wrong. I think you can't fully appreciate this story until you realise how this story came to pass; Dowd died of breast cancer in 2007 leaving behind the characters, a detailed premise and a beginning and handed it over to the very capable hands of Patrick Ness.
"You do not write your life with words ... Your write with actions"
This book grabbed my attention from the get go of the Author's Note when Ness describes feeling that "itch that every writer longs for; the itch to start getting words down, the itch to tell a story". I for one thoroughly loved and appreciated the story he was telling. Ness states, "stories don't end with writers, however many started the race" they are to be carried on by their readers; I will be carrying this one all the way to the finish line and a victory lap.
"Stories were wild, wild animals and went off in directions you couldn't expect"
Connor O'Malley is the epitome of "the frailty of everything revealed" as Cormac McCarthy says in The Road. Connor is such a brave precious soul; not only is his mother battling with cancer, his dad left them both and started a new family in America and that's without mentioning the alienation he experiences at school due to his mother's illness and on top of that a group of boys have decided he's the target of their bullying. To say Connor is going through a rough patch would be the understatement of the year. Not only is Connor's fragility exposed but also the frailty of the human condition and how we humans deal with things we really don't know how to deal with (dreams, nightmares, tyranny, illness and death).
"Sometimes people need to lie to themselves most of all"
Typically saying you loved the monster in a story would sound outlandish but this monster was Connor's saving grace. The monster saved Connor from himself and when a 13 year old boy knows his mother is potentially dying of cancer, someone needs to save him. Over the course of the correspondence between Connor and the monster, Connor demonstrates a rationalism about the strange happenings that occur; be it optimism or plain denial it is genius!
"Stories are wild creatures. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?"
The most moving thing of all is that Siobhan Dowd came up with the ideas for this story while going through chemotherapy herself, I personally think it makes the whole story that much more enchanting because of the realism Dowd could have offered to Ness.
"Stories chase and bite and hunt"
Although it is a rather short story by no means is its impact anything less than spectacularly powerful. It's been a while since I've read a book with great imagery where you can tell the author takes so much care and pride in their craft. I strongly believe Patrick Ness has helped me find the crux of my zeal for reading; the whole reason why I loved reading to begin with.
"Stories are the wildest things of all"
Not only did this book remind me why I love reading books but it tells such a poignant story that many young people know all too well and were monsters like the one in this book real, I think we would all know how to deal with our own truth a lot better. It truly is an exceptional read - that will stay with you because it's an amazing, enthralling and emotional journey which can be appreciated by both young and old readers.
"Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both"
"Because humans are complicated beasts"
"Stories don't always have happy endings"