Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Title/Author: A Monster Calls/Patrick Ness

Publisher: Walker Books
Pages: 269
ISBN 13: 978-0141039701

In a nutshell
A Monster Calls is about a teenage boy, Conor, who has to come to terms with his mom, the only person he cares about and loves, not recovering from cancer. He has nobody he could turn to. He doesn't get along with his grandmother and his dad now lives with his new family. His school life isn't any better either. In the midst of all these problems, the Monster appears, wrecking his life even further, or so he thinks.

What I thought of it
I was first drawn to the black and white illustration by Jim Kay. Dark, sombre, yet beautiful - a great complement to the tone and mood of the story. The complexity of the illustration was a nice balance to the straight forward manner in which the story was written.

'A Monster Calls' deals with family issues, teenage angst, peer pressure, loneliness and confusion - all of which young Conor had to come face-to-face with, alone, until the Monster appeared. Conor thought the Monster was there as his protector, only to discover later it was there as reminder of the truth he had kept hidden and daren't admit. The truth that had separated Conor from the world. The truth, that will heal him and set him free.

"Stories are the wildest thing of all, the monster rumbled. Stories chase and bite and hunt." So do truths. Yes, truth can be ugly. Admitting it may make one feel vulnerable at first but eventually, it will and can set us free because we're no longer controlled by it, but rather be the one in control. The fear of revealing ourselves to it, is what holds us back from moving on.

It was the same for Conor. The Monster was to tell Conor 3 stories, and in return, Conor would have to tell him the fourth - that was to be his story, and it will be the truth. And if Conor didn't do so, "Then I (the Monster), will eat you alive."

I loved how the story was developed and treated. And the writing was so good it engaged the reader every step of the way, drawing out raw emotions and intensity so real it reaches out to the heart. It was amazing to see how the author managed to use simple words to express complicated, complex emotions. This is one of them (after Conor tore down his grandma's place):

She (the grandma) walked right past him, her face twisted in tears, the moaning spilling out of her again. She went to the display cabinet, the only thing remaining upright in the room.
And she grabbed it by one side -
And pulled on it hard once -
Twice -
And a third time.
Sending it crashing to the floor with a final-sounding crunch.
She gave a last moan and leant forward to put her hands on her knees, her breath coming in ragged gasps.

One could just feel her emotions right there. The anger, the sadness, the frustration. All clearly shown, not told. Beautiful.

And I'm boggled by how the author created the 3 tales told by the Monster. They were all 'hints' to what lay ahead in the story. For example, this part where the Monster was about to tell Conor the 2nd tale, and Conor asked if it was going to be a 'cheating story' like the first one. "No, said the monster. It is about a man who thought only of himself. The Monster smiled again, looking even more wicked. And he gets punished very, very badly indeed." (pg. 108)

Attention was given very evenly to all its characters, except for the Monster and Conor of course, as they played the vital roles of this story. Voices were consistent throughout, and Conor was depicted very clearly as a teenager - in his voice, thoughts and actions.

Some of my favourite quotes were:
"There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere inbetween." (pg. 74)

"It is a true story, the monster said. Many things that are true feel like a cheat." (pg. 74)

"Belief is half of all healing." (pg. 119)

"Stories are important, the monster said. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth." (pg. 151)

Book bite
When novelist Siobhan Dowd died in 2007, she left four finished books and an idea for a fifth. Rather than let a good idea go to waste, Walker Books commissioned Patrick Ness to write it. Ness, like Dowd, is a brilliant and acclaimed creator of books for older children and young adults, but the two novelists' voices, their concerns, their styles, are quite different.

My verdict? 4/5
Categorised as a YA read. But I think it's a great story for any age.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Monster by Allan Hall

Title/Author: Monster/Allan Hall
Publisher: Penguin Books
Pages: 269
ISBN 13: 978-0141039701

In a nutshell
On 28th August 1984, Josef Fritzl drugged his teenage daughter Elisabeth with ether and imprisoned her in a soundproof underground bunker, behind eight locked doors for 24 years. He raped and abused her. She bore him 7 children.

The author has packed a great deal of insightful information into the 269-page book, complete with 150 interviews with neighbours, former tenants, childhood friends, police officers, and photographs of those involved and diagrams of the dungeon.

‘Monster’ is definitely not for the faint-hearted. It contains gruesome details, chilling confessions, terrifying truths, and a lot of ugliness - exactly what one should expect from reading about a cold-blooded animal who finds gratification in raping and abusing his own flesh and blood.

See if you can stomach this:
The police force which was tasked to probe the dungeon were ordered to undergo psychological counselling as they felt crushed by its claustrophobic feel and 'unutterable sadness' at the pitiful drawings the children had made on the walls. The shower curtains were covered in mould. The toilet, which was in the kitchen was in a catastrophic state and emanated an unbearable stench.

Despite the dungeon's condition, despite her unfathomable fate, for 24 years, Elisabeth single-handedly raised her children. She taught them to walk, to read, to write and to do multiplication. She cooked for them, washed for them, loved them. There was no time off for her. And yet, she managed to give the children a 'good' life under the given circumstances in the dungeon.

This book is divided into 3 parts: Master Plan, Martyrdom, and Miracle. There were some parts I had to skip because they were too graphic for me. It was I read about Elisabeth's children in "Secrets and Lies Revealed", in "Miracle", that I teared.

"Then, when Felix (Elisabeth's youngest son) was led outside for the first time in his life and he looked up at the sky, he pointed and said: 'Is that where God lives?' He requires no PlayStation, Nintendo or any of these gizmos to be happy; just a ride in the car and a glimpse of thunder clouds bedazzle him.

When Elisabeth's two sons went for a ride in a police car, they were fascinated by the headlights, and were shouting and hiding behind the seats. They were in awe of almost everything they saw, even the moon. This was so heart-breaking it brought tears to my eyes.

The blame game
When their ordeal ended, the questions began. Elisabeth was missing for 24 years. "How could anyone not notice?" "Weren't the neighbours suspicious?" "If they were, why did they not do something about it?"

Some blamed it on Elisabeth's mom, and said she was his unwilling accomplice. Some blamed it on the Austrian's culture of silence; their tradition of sweeping things under the carpet. Some questioned the social welfare teams whose task is to act as busybodies - why did they visit the home of a convicted felon 21 times, and YET NEVER took a look around?

And how could the monster be given the adoption rights to the three children (the ones whom the monster chose to live with the grandmother upstairs) who were left on their doorstep over a decade, without enquiring after the location of their mother?

You could read all about this in the "Aftermath" chapter. You'll find very interesting interviews and information you may not get on the internet.

The take away message for me...
I know the importance of sunlight, but it never occurred to me that someone out there could be deprived of it. And to read about a child who never got to see a moon is something totally unimaginable to me. What more to learn that the only people this family had ever communicated with were themselves, and the only voices they recognised were those of theirs or the television's, is depressing...

After reading this, I can't help but be thankful for the many simple things in life which I've taken for granted. Now, I'm just glad that I have clean air to breathe, that I get to see sunshine in the morning, to feel the sun's warmth on my face, to see the moon and stars at night, to listen to the rhythm of the rain (the children have never felt or seen rain until they were released), to feel soil under my feet (the only surface their feet ever felt is the floor of their dungeon), to see trees dance in the wind (the only trees they've seen are those on TV or the ones they've drawn on the walls), to go anywhere I please (They've been told that the dungeon was their world), to have choices (which they never had), to have the power to make my own decision (which they too never had. Something they needed to learn to deal with after their release) to be able to fulfill my own needs, to be able to plan my day instead of being dictated by someone else; mostly to have my freedom and prerogative.

Who should read this?
Strictly for those who want to know/read more even after reading the above information. Also for those who think their life is a living hell.

I must warn you first. The description can be very graphic in some parts.

Latest on the family
You can read it here.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A grasshopper reading! :D

A grasshopper, caught browsing in a bookstore! Looked like it was spoilt for choice! hehe Such a great shot! :) Thanks Chaz for sharing it with me!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Room by Emma Donoghue

Title/Author: Room/Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Little, Brown
Pages: 496
ISBN 13: 978-0316120579

In a nutshell
Ma was 19 when she was kidnapped, raped and kept in this room. When Jack was 5, she had lived in there for 7 years. And for 7 years, she did what all loving mothers would do – love, nurture and protect her son the best she could, even in that small space with limited resources. And for 7 years, she had to comply with her kidnapper, Old Nick’s whims and fancies, so that he wouldn’t get angry and hurt her and Jack, and continued to supply them with the basic necessities they needed to stay alive.

The story’s told from Jack’s perspective. The first half of the book introduces you to Room, Jack and Ma, and it’s not a pretty picture, I can tell you. Being able to enjoy life’s luxuries, and then being shoved to live in an 11 by 11 foot, sound-proofed space would definitely be the worst nightmare anyone could experience. But Ma made it beautiful for him. She created a world of imagination filled with fairytales, games made out of things in Room, songs and nursery rhymes, and kept his mind away from the outside world. So for Jack, who was brought up in it, Room is the entire world.

The hook for me
Overall Room was a riveting read for me (Except the first half of the book. Jack’s voice got pretty unbearable and I made a lot of effort not to give up on it. I have a soft spot for kids!). What kept me hooked was the second half of the book – the healing, coping and challenges after the escape. What happens to a child, who, throughout all his 5 years, had thought that Room was the world; who thought his Dylan the Digger was the only book in the world; who had been told that the pictures on the television are not real? And throughout those 5 years, he had only spoken with his Ma and no one else. So imagine the difficulties he faced when he had to speak to a stranger, a someone from Outside.

Here, Ma was trying to tell him about the world outside Room, to prepare him for the escape:
“Lots of TV is made-up pictures – like Dora’s, just a drawing – but the people, the ones with faces that look like you and me, they’re real.”
“Actual humans?” She nods.
“And the places are real too, like farms and forests and airplanes and cities…”
“Nah.” Why is she tricking me? “Where would they fit?”
“Out there,” says Ma.
“Outside.” She jerks her head back.
“Outside Bed Wall?” I stare at it.
“Outside Room.”

When they were Outside, not only Jack had to face the challenges, but Ma too. She began reflecting if what she did was right and good for Jack in Room? Will she be strong enough to help Jack survive this new life? Could they deal with this new reality? Was she wrong to ask Jack to escape? Was it safer for Jack to stay in Room?

This story made me realise how easily one can take life and the world for granted when given all the luxuries of life.

Won't be surprise they make a movie based on this book.

What I didn't quite like
The beginning. Jack's voice needed some getting used to for me. But I'm glad I didn't give up on it.

Book Bite
Room is inspired by Josef Fritzl’s imprisonment of his daughter Elisabeth, and the cases of Natascha Kampusch and Sabine Dardenne. I read about the Fritzl’s case, but I never thought of what his daughter, Elisabeth and her other children have to deal with after being freed, until I read Room. Anyway, I googled and found this latest (2010) news about Elisabeth Fritzl. Sounds like they're still living in a prison :(

My verdict? 4/5
Would have been a 4.5 if not for the beginning.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

STORYTELLING TIME @ Times Bookstore, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur

Everyone's invited! Please come! Kids, especially ;)

It’s Storytelling Time!

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
Presented by Cambridge English For Life

He has terrible tusks, and terrible claws,
And terrible teeth in his terrible jaws!

Oh yes, he’s one ugly monster! And guess what? A tiny, brave mouse will have to defeat the monster to save his dear life! But,…how?

Come and join us for a storytelling session that will take you through a deep dark wood and unravel the crafty plans of this very smart mouse.

And there are prizes to be won when you participate in our games and activities!

Looking forward to seeing you
on: 10th June, 2011
at: 2.30pm
in: Times Bookstore, Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur

See you there!


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