A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay
(Candlewick, 2011, 224 pages)
I recently read somewhere that new editions of the Harry Potter books were in the works with new illustrations by Jim Kay. This got me curious, so I decided to check out some of Kay’s earlier work, leading me to A Monster Calls. The illustrations are really remarkable, and they are integrated seamlessly with the story.
The story takes place in England and centers around thirteen year old Conor, who is visited at night by a monster who mysteriously transforms from a yew tree outside Conor’s house. As frightening as the monster is, Conor is facing something even more frightening as his mother undergoes chemotherapy treatment. As his mother’s condition worsens, Conor is sure that the monster’s visits and the confounding parables the creature imparts to him are somehow entwined with his mother’s condition.
Ness tells his story well, maintaining a sense of mystery and anticipation throughout the novel. The monster is both terrifying and benevolent in its elemental fierceness. Again, Kay’s illustrations perfectly capture these elements, and the monster is so effectively portrayed that it is hard to imagine what image might be evoked in a reader’s mind without Kay’s depiction. I enjoyed this book quite a bit, though I’m not sure that the ending was as effective as the rest of the narrative. The strongest part of the novel was the interaction between the text and the images, and this book definitely increases my anticipation for Kay’s interpretation of Harry Potter’s world.