This was a tough read, though I made it through the entire book in one sitting. You could say it was timely.
Connor has been having the same nightmare over and over for months. The one where—oh, he can’t stand to think about it. He’s been having trouble at school with three bullies. He’s distanced himself from his best friend. His dad lives across the ocean with a new wife. He can’t stand his grandmother. And his mom’s cancer treatments don’t seem to be working. He feels invisible.
Then the yew tree in the back yard comes walking. It appears late at night and tells Connor a series of stories. More dreams. They must be. But each morning his floor is covered with evidence of his late night guest—twigs, leaves, berries.
The yew tree. A tree of healing. That is what his mother needs.
The stories the tree tells are wild, for “stories are the wildest thing of all. They chase and bite and hunt.” And these teach Connor much about the mixed up way life works. “There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one.” Life doesn’t always make sense. But the yew tree helps Connor sort out truth and error. It helps him face life head on. For “if you speak the truth, you will be able to face whatever comes.”
The tree hasn’t come to heal Mum at all. It’s come to heal Connor. And it demands that Connor tell the last story. It demands he tell the truth—and the outcome of his recurring nightmare.
Though this story is beautifully told, it is not happy. It’s a terribly emotional look at one boy’s struggle with his mother’s approaching death. And it doesn’t really provide any hope. There isn’t much comfort in telling the truth. But it does have some sound advice; facing reality is the only way to begin healing.
I think this one is appropriate for ten-year-olds. It has two minor profanities, and one of the yew tree’s stories does involve “coupling,” but it does have some deep thoughts and some valid wisdom. And the subject matter is handled very tenderly. I recommend A Monster Calls, especially for children who may find themselves in similar, tragic circumstances.
A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, 2011, Book Review