People have been talking about this book for a very long time, but because of my negative experience with Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go in the past, I wasn’t interested in reading it. However, my oldest son recently said it was good, and an audio version of it came up at my library, so I decided to give it a chance.
It turned out to be a really good read. The story is about a kid, Conor, whose mother is dying of cancer. He’s struggling to deal with her illness, as well as the social stigma it has caused at school (from bullies to the teachers always going easy on him). One day the distant yew tree outside his window comes to life, as a giant monster, and comes to talk to Conor. Conor isn’t scared – there are worse monsters in his nightmares – and the tree isn’t there necessarily to scare him. It’s there to tell him three stories, and to make Conor face the truth about himself.
So I think most people get weepy in this book because of Conor’s suffering. His mother is dying, and he’s in pain, and there’s a part of him that just wants it to be over with, which makes him feel like the worst person in the world. But for me, what really got to me were the scenes with his mother, hearing her voice, and imagining what it would feel like to know that you’re about to die and leave your thirteen-year-old son without a mother. That you will never experience the rest of his life. That’s what broke my heart.
I don’t think this book affected me as much as it does others, probably because I wasn’t overly fond of the audio narrator, Jason Isaacs. He did fine, but because this is a younger book, he played up the vocal emotions too much for me. The tree monster had a big bad scary gruff voice and when the mother cried while speaking, it detracted from my own sorrow. I’m pretty sad about all this, because I like Jason Isaacs as an actor, but I do understand that his target audience (children and/or teens) would probably connect with the way he did his narration more than I did. To me, it was overdone the way most children’s audiobooks are overdone, and I think I would have gotten more weepy and affected if I’d read the book in print. I might just do that, since I have to lead a book club on this book at the beginning of April.