A monster calls on Conor just after midnight in the shape of a yew tree looming over his bedroom window. But Conor is not afraid. “I’ve seen worse,” he says. And he has – his waking life is filled with helping care for his mother during another round of cancer treatments, a father who has largely disappeared to be with his new family in America, a gang of bullies at school, and losing faith in his one true friend. Amid all this turmoil, it is almost a relief to be visited by the yew tree at night. Or at least it’s a nice change of pace from the monster in his other nightmare – the one that truly frightens him.
The idea for this book came from a Young Adult author named Siobhan Dowd, who unfortunately passed away from breast cancer in 2007. (I am not familiar with Dowd’s work, but will certainly be looking it up now.) Patrick Ness was called in to shape the idea into book form, along with illustrator Jim Kay, and the result is something special. The language is simple but haunting, and Conor’s pain and uncertainty show in stark and heartrending ways. The illustrations are dark, textured, and expressive, and add immeasurably to the overall atmosphere of the book. Simply put, this is a beautiful volume in terms of story, prose, and presentation.