“Stories are the wildest things of all, the monster rumbled.” (p. 35)
A Monster Calls left me breathless. Speechless. And completely incapable of producing a coherent review. All I had were a bunch of words tumbling around in my head, an ache in my heart, and one charge: READ IT. Below, see my best attempt at captivating what this book meant to me.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Young Adult fiction | 224 pages | Candlewick | September 2011 | 0763655597 | Library copy
“I’m sorry, but I don’t get it. If we’re supposed to ignore everything that’s wrong with our lives, then I can’t see how we’ll ever make things right.” (p. 44)
Vera Dietz and Charlie Kahn have been best friends since they were four years old. In a world where mothers left their families and husbands beat their wives, Vera and Charlie were there for each other, were solid for each other, kept each others secrets. Until Charlie turned his back on Vera. And then died.
Now Vera is facing the fallout from Charlie’s death. She knows more than she’s letting on, but in order to tell the truth, she must first come to terms with everything that’s happened between her and Charlie-good and bad. Even though she’s been told to ignore the ugly things in the world for most of her life, Vera knows that ignorance doesn’t make them go away. It just makes you feel like a chump for not doing anything to help.
I absolutely loved this book. From the first page, I was drawn into Vera’s story. Her voice is vivid and full of personality; she’s quirky and smart and funny. She’s also been hurt very deeply by the people who were supposed to love her. Watching her experience that cruelty was literally heartbreaking. Several times I found myself clutching my chest, fighting back tears for this girl. But don’t think Vera’s some helpless damsel-in-distress; she’s tough in ways she shouldn’t have to be.
Vera tells us her story in alternating perspectives: present and “history” – glimpses into her relationship with Charlie as they grew up. There are also some interjections from “the dead kid”, AKA Charlie, Vera’s dad, and the Pagoda. Although the sections told from Charlie’s and the Pagoda’s perspectives add a bit of fantastic realism to the story, they weren’t distracting or jarring as you might expect.
Please Ignore Vera Dietz is as much about death and loss as it is about love and life. It’s about letting go of the past so you can embrace your future. It’s a complex and nuanced exploration about the complicated nature of love, whether it’s romantic or familial. I think Vera put it best when she said:
“True love includes equal parts good and bad, but true love sticks around and doesn’t run off to Vegas with a podiatrist.” (p. 97)
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King
Young Adult | 336 pages | October 2010 | Knopf Books for Young Readers | 0375865861 | Library copy
Caitlin Smith’s world has been turned upside down. Her older brother, Devon, has been the victim of a horrific school shooting. Devon was the person who helped Caitlin make sense of the world. As a ten-year-old girl with Asperger Syndrome, Caitlin has a hard time understanding people and situations around her. She relied on Devon to be her guide on the complicated and messy journey of life. But now it’s just Caitlin and her father, who is having difficulty coping with his son’s death. At least Caitlin has Mrs. Brook, her counselor at school. But Mrs. Brook doesn’t seem to ‘Get It’ that Caitlin needs to find ‘Closure’, not make friends. When Caitlin comes up with a plan to finish a project Devon and her father began, she sets her small family and the larger community on a path to healing.
Erskine reveals the need for early intervention as her motivation for writing Mockingbird in the Author’s Note. Inspired by the Virginia Tech shooting, Erskine melds two distinct issues (school shootings and Asperger’s) into a thought-provoking novel for middle-grades. Over the course of the novel, we see many instances where Caitlin misunderstands or is misunderstood by her peers. Caitlin, however, has people in her life to guide her. There are many others that may have no one. By providing insight and explanation behind Caitlin’s behavior, she hopes the reader will be closer to understanding the mind of someone who is considered an outsider.
Read Nicki’s Review.