A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The monster's tales will help readers question the surface meaning of stories and look more deeply to the metaphor underneath.
Conor's journey to accept what's really happening with his mother isn't easy, but it's believable and cathartic, even with a monster at its center. Conor's experiences will give readers empathy for someone going through a difficult time, even when he is not behaving in a likable manner.
Positive Role Models
Basically a good kid, Conor acts out due to his tough situation and gets into trouble that he normally wouldn't take part in. He is very loving and helpful to his mother ("I wish you didn't have to be quite so good," she says), and the pain of his struggle is palpable, making it clear why he acts the way he does. Conor's mother is loving and forgiving of her son's misbehavior, and his friend Lily is a staunch and loyal friend.
Violence & Scariness
Three school bullies consistently pick on Conor, at various times tripping him and teasing him. Conor loses his temper and seriously hurts one of the boys. Conor also destroys his grandmother's treasured clock and her entire living room. A monster threatens to "eat him alive." There's a murder that's not described. There's bullying/fighting resulting in blood, injury.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Mention of having sex but with no detail. Reference to the "coupling."
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Two uses of "hell."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Conor's father holds wine glass at a restaurant, but there's no actual drinking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the true monster in this book is not the giant yew tree that comes to life and haunts 13-year-old Conor but is instead the shadow of his mother's imminent death from cancer. Conor deals with his fear in destructive ways, such as challenging the school bully to hurt him and destroying his grandmother's property.
Is It Any Good?
Children will be swept up into this honest and compelling story of a boy dealing with his mother's imminent death. Adults might be interested to know that Ness, author of the award-winning Chaos Walking trilogy, wrote this book based on an idea by writer and Carnegie Medal winner Siobhan Dowd, who died of cancer at the age of 47. Supported by Jim Kay's dramatic pen-and-ink illustrations, the story is driven forward by the giant yew tree that comes to life with the express purpose of haunting Conor. One of the most interesting monsters in modern literature -- menacing but somehow protective, fierce and also funny -- he makes Conor's pain more bearable by giving the boy something tangible to fight against. Ness does an amazing job of transforming this difficult subject into a moving tribute to love and loss.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.