A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness/Siobhan Dowd

Just after midnight, a monster visits 13-year-old Conor. He isn’t scared, he’s had bigger things to worry about lately, his mother’s treatment being the biggest. He knows monsters are for babies and they aren’t real. But, this monster keeps coming back and he’s here for the truth.

At the heart of this novel are the bewildering parables of the monster – part yew tree, part giant – that only leave Conor with more questions and frustration. Interspersed with Conor’s heart-rending story, these tales evoke the dawning reality of his mother’s illness and living with his grandma. In this realistic and magical piece of work, the monster is a transcendent teacher, who illuminates the nature of loss and complexity of human emotion.

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Illustrations: Jim Kay

Anna of the five towns – Arnold Bennett

Anna of the five towns follows the seemingly ordinary life of the humble and dutiful Anna Tellwright, who as a young woman learns of her coming-of-age inheritance, reserved for her by her mother. Despite her wealth, she remains under the control of her father, in both the real and financial world. Money aside, the novel follows Anna’s first stirrings with love, struggles with religion and her father’s wrath.

Arnold Bennett’s writing is marked by vitality of style, giving an insight into the harshness of life and providing a perceptive portrayal of Victorian communities in Staffordshire. His regard for the small scale aspects of life create a humble and compelling story.

All the light we cannot see – Anthony Doerr

Marie-Laure lives a simple but happy life, with her father, the locksmith of the Museum of Natural History. The museum, filled with snails, creatures and hidden gems, is where they spend most of their days. Between memorising routes and recognising scents, Marie-Laure, blind since the age of six, puzzles and plays with a miniature Paris model made by her father. She delicately navigates her way, using her fingers as eyes, around the ingenious replica. Over time she learns her way home, only to be forced out of Paris to the walled city by the sea – her new maze.

In Germany, Werner endlessly tinkers with radios in the attic of the orphanage. His talents and curiosity bring him to the attention of the Nazis, and he is sent to a school for the Hitler Youth. He questions the fate of his friend Frederick and spends his evenings working in the laboratory with the giant Volkheimer.

The deeply moving stories of Marie-Laure and Werner are unusual and emotionally plangent. Oscillating chapters, describing their crossed paths in the heart of the war, are deftly written, full of beautiful imagery, and endearing idiosyncrasies.

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

Amir, a wealthy boy, and Hassan, the family’s servant, share a love of kite fighting in the city of Kabul. Hassan is Amir’s valued ‘kite runner’; he knows where the kite will land before it has even started its descent. Amir’s father, a wealthy Afghanistan man, lovingly known as Baba, is devoted to his son and Hassan, but often criticises Amir, deeming him as feeble and cowardly. Rahim Khan, his father’s closest friend, recognises Amir’s need to be understood and acts as the benevolent father figure that Amir craves so desperately.

Other local boys mock Amir for socialising with a Hazara, who they believe are an inferior race that should be banished to Hazarajat. One boy in particular, with a sadistic taste for violence, sets against Amir with his brass knuckles, but before the fight begins Hassan jumps in to Amir’s defence, threatening Assef with his beloved slingshot. As Assef cowers away he swears to get revenge on the boys sooner or later.

A remarkable and touching story of the friendship and secrets between a wealthy Pashtun boy and the son of his father’s Hazara, The Kite Runner is an incredible novel set in a country that is in distress. It touches themes of betrayal, possible redemption and explores the power of loyalty and family.

My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Picoult

Kate Fitzgerald was diagnosed with acute leukemia at age four. Her sister, Anna, was genetically engineered to save Kate’s life. For the best part of her childhood, Anna donated cord blood, stem cells, lymphocytes, granulocytes and underwent a bone marrow transplant. It was when she was asked to donate a kidney, that could or could not protect Kate, that Anna decided to take matters into her own hands.

Respective chapters depict the thoughts and lives of each of the characters. The poignant narrative gives voice to the desperate parent, aberrant teenager and struggling patient. Throughout the novel empathies are diverged, Anna’s fierce loyalty to her sister set against her parents’ utter desperation. Simply, the dialogue and characters in My Sister’s Keeper portray real life, albeit an unfair representation. It transcends the reader into the precarious life of the Fitzgeralds.

This powerfully compassionate story encompasses major issues of morality and provokes inextricable debate of ethics. It highlights that the world is not black and white. Cancer, stem cell research, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and human rights are addressed head on. Whilst the central theme of this novel is devotedly sad, it is the touching moments and descriptions of siblinghood and family life that make it such a worthwhile read.