Ten: Fathers and Mothers, Daughters and Sons

It’s not uncommon for parents to play a minimal role — or no role at all — in children’s and YA fiction. It gives the protagonists additional space and agency to explore themselves and their world, and allows readers to do so vicariously. Even so, the parent-child relationship remains an important one for young readers, and plenty of books offer insight into both its challenges and its potential. This week’s Ten suggests that even when parents are distant, even when they break trust, there is a place for hope in love and the possibility of restoration.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
Zoe’s dreams and her father’s psychological limitations come into conflict, introducing new tension into a quirky but loving father-daughter relationship. Growth in both characters makes this a very satisfying story. Continue reading


A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (“inspired by an idea from Soibhan Dowd”), illustrated by Jim Kay

A Monster Calls coverWhen bad things are happening, it can be tough for a thirteen year old boy to get his hands on the truth. Conor’s mom is sick, and ever since his teachers found out, they’ve been letting him get away with anything. At home, his mom and grandmother argue over how much to tell Conor – but neither asks him whether he wants to know. And then, one night, a monster arrives at Conor’s window, demanding that Conor tell the truth that he’s been hiding from himself.

The best first: Jim Kay’s illustrations are glorious — dark and detailed, with an emotional strength about them that grabs the attention and adds hugely to the power of the story to linger in the imagination. The characters are believable, and Ness does a great job of bringing the reader into Conor’s experience, offering comfort for those who have experienced something similar, and increasing understanding and compassion in those who have not. The fantasy element adds mythic depth to the story — in keeping with the theme of the novel, there’s a sense of universal truth here, even as the majority of the story lives in the particulars of selfish fathers and guardians too caught up in their own pain to see and address the needs of a child. Although, to me, the story doesn’t quite fulfill its potential — it stays too much on the surface, moves along too quickly, to really develop the depth of truth it hints at – this is absolutely a novel worth sharing.

Read about how Ness and Kay turned Siobhan Dowd’s idea into A Monster Calls, or read a review written from a doctor’s perspective.

Watch a trailer (and see a sample of the illustrations!):

Blog Review — Patrick Ness – Diary

The Knife of Never Letting Go coverFans of Patrick Ness’s deeply moving A Monster Calls or his Chaos Walking Trilogy might be surprised to find his blog a bit spare. Entries are rarely more than a couple of short paragraphs and focus almost exclusively on current book news–what Ness is working on, where he will be presenting, what awards his books have recently won. There is little insight into his personal life, and no opportunity for comments.

Taking a few minutes to explore the rest of Ness’s website, however, or visit some of the links provided in his blog posts, reveals plenty of engaging material. First the website: While individual posts offer no place for comments, the Visitors tab provides access to an ongoing thread of comments that readers have left for Ness. The level of interactivity is low (there isn’t really any conversation between posters, and Ness himself only replies to notes occasionally), the insight offered into how Ness’s novels have impacted others creates a sense of intimacy with other readers based on shared, meaningful experiences that is relatively rare in author blogs.

A Monster Calls coverThe links within Ness’s blog posts allow readers to explore directly the events, articles and organisations that he mentions in his brief updates. Invested readers will find links to broadcasts of interviews and new stories and organisations with which he or his books are involved (e.g. Diversity Role Models and World Book Night). Links to presentations and articles that he has published elsewhere (such as this keynote address on self-censorship) provide the sort of glimpses of his personal opinions that readers might be accustomed to finding within other author blogs.

In sum, while Ness’s blog tends to be a bit labour-intensive, it has lots to offer readers willing and able to take the time to explore.