By Patrick Ness
From an idea by Siobhan Dowd
Published by Walker Books
There is one important thing you have to know about this superb book before you open it: it is not a horror story, despite what the title suggests.
Yes, the story centres on a monster - an unexpected one at that - but the book goes beyond cheap thrills and spine-shivering moments, delivering an emotional punch.
Author Patrick Ness has woven a masterpiece from the unfinished writings of British author Siobhan Dowd, who died in 2007.
At the time of her death, Dowd had already published four popular novels for teens and left behind notes for a fifth. The notes were so compelling that the publishers asked Ness, who had written acclaimed fiction for young adults himself, to bring Dowd's ideas to completion. He turned out to be an inspired choice.
A Monster Calls centres on troubled British 13-year-old Conor
O' Malley, whose life has taken a turn for the worse. His father lives in America with a new family, while his mother has been diagnosed with cancer and is going through debilitating treatments.
Conor's grandmother tries her best to help them, but her well-meaning gestures only seem to make matters worse. His friends and teachers also try to help the confused teen, to no avail.
Confronted with an uncertain future, Conor feels lonely and isolated. He begins to have terribly realistic nightmares where he is confronted by a monster.
One evening, he hears his name called by someone outside his bedroom window. When he gets up to look outside, he is stunned to see a giant monster standing in the garden.
The creature turns out to be an ancient yew tree that has come to life. Its gnarled branches and trunk have taken on the shape of a hulking man. The figure is not the menacing villain that has dominated his dreams, but is something wilder and more ancient, and it wants something from Connor: the truth deep inside his mind.
A Monster Calls moves effortlessly between the problems of Conor's reality - as his mother becomes more and more ill - and the surreal nighttime encounters with the monster. Conor cannot bear the prospect of his mother's death. What 13-year-old could cope with such a dreadful possibility?
Slowly and inevitably, things move towards a thrilling climax, in which Conor, haunted by the monster, is forced to confront this elusive truth that the creature is searching for.
Compelling and harrowing, A Monster Calls is an exceptional novel that will move anyone who reads it.
In his introduction, Ness said that when he was handed Dowd's idea, he felt he had to "go and run" with it. But Ness has gone the extra mile: the end result is an unexpected gem of teenage fiction. Just make sure you have a box of tissues handy as you get to the final pages.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com