A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness -This low fantasy novel tells the story of a 13-year-old boy named Conor, who struggles with his mother's battle against cancer. He meets a mysterious monster who visits him nightly, it's intentions unclear as it utters riddles and fairy tale like stories.
However, this story is not just about illnesses and monsters; it's about the struggle with the self and the fear of the inevitable, of how trapped emotions are delectable snacks for loneliness and anger, helping them to grow stronger until the person they inhabit cannot control them anymore.
The monster plays an essential role in unveiling these struggles, his presence forcing Conor to stare at them squarely in the face. It makes me heart sick to read about a boy who is filled with so much confusion, bitterness, and loneliness when faced with the possibility of losing his mother. Such a weight on a child is too overwhelming to bare.
The illustrations by Jim Kay are like the sinister shadows lurking in the under and overtones of Ness's writing. To me, the dark and dreary environments are manifestations of Conor's messy thoughts and fears. They're compelling and work successfully to amplify the overall tone of the story.
I enjoyed this book because it spurred me to action. It made me search for hidden meanings in the simplest of words and gestures.
The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey - This abecedarium book is a collection of one line stories that tell and illustrate the untimely deaths of children, each child represented by the letter of the alphabet.
These stories are definitely morbidly humorous and aren't meant to be in children's libraries. The format itself is a mocking gesture towards alphabet books. It's made to poke fun and is also an exaggerated take on what happens when a child's curiosity leads to dire consequences.
The illustrated black expanses these children are placed in-whether represented by a massive rug or a murky lake-tell as much of a story as the one liners do. They're representative of an encroaching doom ready to swallow the life out of these children.
So, if the twisted and heartbreaking depictions on the childhood struggle is something you can swallow down and read on a quiet night after work, give these two books a whirl.