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

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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.