Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Reading Challenge: A Book that is a Story within a Story

This book is a blubfest. If you have lost someone recently to cancer or have a close friend or relative currently going through treatment you might want to avoid this book. Conversely, if you know an older child or adolescent struggling to come to terms with a similar situation, this book might help.

Conor's mum has cancer. I can't remember his exact age now but it's somewhere between 10-13 if memory serves. His dad lives in America with his new (possessive) wife and child, and he doesn't like his grandmother much which is tough as she's about to move in to help his mum out. He is struggling to come to terms with what will happen should his mother die, and in the midst of all this a monster begins to pay him regular visits. The monster, an elemental force who takes the form of a yew tree in this incarnation, promises to tell him three stories. When his stories are told it will be Conor's turn to tell his own tale, one that he has kept secret and doesn't believe he will ever be able to share with anyone. His mother is admitted to hospital and given a new treatment derived from the yew tree and Conor believes he may have worked out why the monster is visiting him.

I thought the characters were well drafted. Conor is intelligent and astute, and it would be difficult not to empathise with him and what he's going through. As well as the situation at home, he has to deal with bullies at school as well as teachers and pupils who all know what is happening with his mother and have a tendency of looking through him because they don't know how to talk to him about it. His father, whether he means to or not, gives the impression that his new family is his priority as opposed to his old. His grandmother is not like other grandmothers. At one point he describes her as looking like a bird of prey - 'a hawk that could carry off sheep'. The most powerful scene in the book for me is when she returns to her home where Conor is staying to find he has wrecked all but one item of furniture in the room - and this she then tears down herself.

Patrick Ness

I read the first third of the book one day and intended to read about a hundred pages on the next but the second time I picked it up I couldn't put it down until it was done, tears running down my cheeks, aware that dinner was late and not caring because in that moment finishing the book was far more important than getting jacket potatoes out of the oven. 

I don't want to give any spoilers about the ending. I will only say that it was the right ending. I intend to watch the movie when it is out on DVD as I would be curious to see how/if they have altered the final scenes on film.

Coincidentally, I picked up this book shortly after listening to this Radio 4 programme on the yew which influenced my reading of the story (and the monster) as a result. It's an interesting 28 minutes, if you have the time to listen to it.

8 out of 10 yew berries

Are you doing the #popsugarreadingchallenge?

Tempted by this book, but already have your book with a subtitle covered? These are other categories in the Reading Challenge this book could apply to:

A book recommended by an author you love (if you love Philip Pullman or John Green)
A book about a difficult topic (Cancer)

Other books I'd recommend for a book that is a story within a story:

Where Three Roads Meet - Salley Vickers
Loitering with Intent - Muriel Spark
Holes - Louis Sacher

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