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A Monster CallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was expecting emotional intensity and some brilliance (remember this is the man who brought us The Knife of Never Letting Go, which is also emotionally intense and absolutely brilliant) but I wasn’t quite sure what form it would take. This is a much sparer story than the Chaos Walking trilogy, which was actually a relief and, I think, one of the story’s strengths.

The dialogue is also perfectly spare – the characters leave so much out and say so much more by doing so. The mythological and fairy tale aspects felt suited to the story on a real gut level, which is something I rarely see. The first two stories the monster tells, in particular, had so much wonderful gray area in them. I didn’t get the same punch from the third story, but by then I was past really caring.

And the illustrations! I would say they set the mood for the story, but the words have already done that. Maybe one could say that they magnify the mood. The style isn’t one I’d normally be drawn to, but it’s right for this story.

If you’re anything like me, have a hanky handy at the end. Family members may express concern about your well-being. That said, I never felt like Ness went for the cheap, easy, tug-on-your-heartstrings moments, instead hitting much deeper notes.

Somebody needs to slap an award sticker on this one – I don’t care if it’s Newbery, Printz or both.

Source: my public library (where I stuck it in the Young Teen, ie middle school, section but it could just as easily be shelved in Young Adult/Teen).

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I wrote this review before ALA’s award announcements on January 23rd…and I was sad that it wasn’t honored by the awards committees. It did make ALSC’s list of Notable Children’s Books.

Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking, #3)Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Warning: no spoilers for Monsters of Men, but there are some mild spoilers for the earlier books in the series. If you haven’t already, go read The Knife of Never Letting Go and come back later.

I can’t imagine reading The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer and not being anxious to read the conclusion to the trilogy. Anxious is really the right word, since Ness has shown that he isn’t afraid to do the heart-breaking thing (“Ow, Todd?”) or leave friends on opposite sides of a war, or have them come face to face with their own faults and failures. But I also didn’t think that the ending would be hopeless – I knew it would be pretty grim, but I didn’t think he’d leave us in despair.

Whether or not I was overly optimistic wasn’t settled until almost the end, but despite the anxiety, this was a much faster read than The Ask and the Answer. The Knife was so fast-paced that The Ask felt glacial in comparison, and now things pick up a little bit. Part of it is that end-of-a-trilogy feeling, where you know there will be at least a little resolution. Everything was being set up in The Ask, and now we see the results. We see what war does to Todd and Viola, and it’s no spoiler to say that it brings out both the best and the worst in them.

The first book had one narrator, Todd. The second book added Viola’s point of view. And here, we get a completely different third perspective. Ness does a great job of making each voice distinct – Todd has particular speech patterns, Viola’s narrative is a little smoother, and that third narrator could never be mistaken for anyone else. The three perspectives work amazingly well, and of course they manage to create plenty of tension as we switch back and forth at an often rapid pace.

It’s a war story, and a story about growing up, and a science fiction story, and a story about family and friendships and first love and enemies and choices and cultural identity. It manages to be both entertaining and thoughtful, and although the series isn’t necessarily an easy read, it’s pretty damn compelling.

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And here’s my review of The Knife of Never Letting Go from last year, just to keep things all in one place.   And for the record, Manchee is still my favorite fictional animal.

The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking: Book One (Chaos Walking) The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking: Book One by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Teensy-tiny mild spoiler at the end – nothing specific.

Here’s a book where form and content are wonderfully matched. Todd’s first person narrative is gripping and suspenseful, and the use of an imagined dialect is perfect for the world he’s coming from. Noise is visually depicted on the page with changes in font and size that never feel gimmicky – the effect of turning the page and seeing the Noise Todd hears as he walks through Prentisstown is much like the shock of turning the page and seeing Octavian Nothing’s scratched out words. Plus, the sometimes choppy sentences give a real sense of immediacy, and this gets turned up a notch for the more tense scenes – and there are plenty of them!

The characters are fantastic and vivid, including all the people Todd and Viola meet along the way, and as someone who’s not an animal person, I have to give special mention to Todd’s dog, Manchee. He was probably my favorite character, and despite his limited abilities with language, he had an incredibly strong “voice.” As Todd tells us in the opening sentence, “The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.” But oh boy does he come alive on the page.

This is a huge page-turner, and despite its length moved along at a nice brisk pace, with plenty of action. There is a fair amount of violence, but it’s a source of anguish for the characters, rather than feeling gratuitous. There’s plenty of moral complexity in the story, and it’s incredibly thoughtful for how action-packed it is. For me, it’s that combo of emotional complexity and fast pace that really make it stand out. Plus, the dystopian elements aren’t too heavy handed, and the dash of sci-fi adds interest without detracting from the story.

Oh, did I mention it’s a cliff-hanger? Plenty is left for the next volume, in terms of Plot, but there are smaller loose ends – like knowing more about the Spackle – that seem just as compelling. But really, by the last few pages, I was so invested in characters surviving that I didn’t care about anything else.

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The Ask and the Answer: Chaos Walking: Book Two The Ask and the Answer: Chaos Walking: Book Two by Patrick Ness

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Knife of Never Letting Go Chaos Walking Book One was all rush rush rush, with characters on the run for most of the story. Here, there’s still plenty of suspense and action, but most of the story takes place in and around Haven. This second volume also switches off between Todd and Viola’s viewpoints – I can’t quite decide if this combination gives the story less momentum or not. With alternating viewpoints, Ness can leave us hanging with one character, then the other, and so on, which adds to the tension but doesn’t necessarily contribute to a breathless pace. Instead, we spend more time seeing how Viola and Todd react differently to their circumstances. We (shudder) get to spend more time seeing how Mayor Prentiss thinks and acts. The history of the planet unfolds a bit more, and political tensions and compromises play a bigger part in the story.

I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll just say that it’s best to read the books in order, and that I think the series will appeal to kids who like fast-paced stories with good character development, and who don’t mind a fairly heavy dystopian setting. There’s a fair amount of violence that could be too much for younger readers, even though it’s never gratuitous and the moral implications are always key to the story.

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So I’ve been hearing good things about Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains for a while now (and man does it have a fab cover!) but I’ve got this problem – every time I see the book or think about it, I get that song stuck in my head  – “Chains, my baby’s got me locked up in chains…”  Except that’s the only line I can remember.  And it is SO inappropriate for the book.  Anyway, after finishing up The Knife of Never Letting Go last night, it’s next on my list, and I’m resigned to never getting the song out of my head.

I’ve also been getting it stuck in my head whenever I think about chains on my car – which seems like a problem that will not go away since it started snowing again today.  Snow is so much nicer when you don’t have to go to work.  But ice is never nice.  Oh, I crack myself up.  This is weather that demands you curl up with your book and your cup of coffee and only leave the house to frolic in the snow, before coming back in for more book and more coffee.

I kinda went all gushy over The Knife of Never Letting Go, but I think it deserves it.  Here’s what I wrote on Goodreads:

Book One (Chaos Walking) The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking: Book One by Patrick Ness


My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Teensy-tiny mild spoiler at the end – nothing specific.

Here’s a book where form and content are wonderfully matched. Todd’s first person narrative is gripping and suspenseful, and the use of an imagined dialect is perfect for the world he’s coming from. Noise is visually depicted on the page with changes in font and size that never feel gimmicky – the effect of turning the page and seeing the Noise Todd hears as he walks through Prentisstown is much like the shock of turning the page and seeing Octavian Nothing’s scratched out words. Plus, the sometimes choppy sentences give a real sense of immediacy, and this gets turned up a notch for the more tense scenes – and there are plenty of them!

The characters are fantastic and vivid, including all the people Todd and Viola meet along the way, and as someone who’s not an animal person, I have to give special mention to Todd’s dog, Manchee. He was probably my favorite character, and despite his limited abilities with language, he had an incredibly strong “voice.” As Todd tells us in the opening sentence, “The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.” But oh boy does he come alive on the page.

This is a huge page-turner, and despite its length moved along at a nice brisk pace, with plenty of action. There is a fair amount of violence, but it’s a source of anguish for the characters, rather than feeling gratuitous. There’s plenty of moral complexity in the story, and it’s incredibly thoughtful for how action-packed it is. For me, it’s that combo of emotional complexity and fast pace that really make it stand out. Plus, the dystopian elements aren’t too heavy handed, and the dash of sci-fi adds interest without detracting from the story.

Oh, did I mention it’s a cliff-hanger? Plenty is left for the next volume, in terms of Plot, but there are smaller loose ends – like knowing more about the Spackle – that seem just as compelling. But really, by the last few pages, I was so invested in characters surviving that I didn’t care about anything else.

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