This book man. This book.
I’ve commented in a few of my reviews about how gay young adult literature has evolved in recent years. When I did my library degree twenty odd years ago, you could list every gay-themed young adult novel in the space of a couple of short guides. And almost all the stories were either about realizing you were gay and the coming out process, or meeting the first boyfriend, or both. But now new and interesting storylines are emerging.
And this book is completely different.
It’s about grief. Heart-breaking, soul-destroying, agonizing grief, and everything that comes with it. The anger, the exhaustion, the ever-present pain of memories.
Griffin’s first boyfriend Theo has just died in a drowning accident. They broke up when Theo moved from New York to Santa Monica to start an animation course, then Theo found a new boyfriend in Santa Monica. And now the new boyfriend Jackson is in New York for the funeral.
The story follows two parallel narratives: Griffin’s memories of his time with Theo when he was alive; and Griffin’s attempts to cope with his grief in the present day. Griffin’s hatred for Jackson as an obstacle to the “endgame” of Theo and Griffin getting back together is palpable, yet the two are drawn to each other by their shared grief for the loss of the boy they both loved.
This is a tough read at times, because the emotions are so raw, and there is pain on almost every page. Griffin has OCD habits… he always has to be standing to the left of someone, and he’s obsessed with even numbers (except for one and seven). Theo’s death makes those tendencies worse, and he has several near panic attacks when he starts making lists of things in his head, and stalls out on an odd number.
Silvera fills Griffin and Theo’s history with rich detail: Theo loves Star Wars, Griffin loves Harry Potter (his favourite character is Cedric Diggory). They bond over assembling jigsaw puzzles, and the oncoming zombie-pirate apocalypse. And the book doesn’t shy away from the fact that the characters have sex. While details are kept to a minimum, Griffin does remember “their first time”, and there is one of those hilariously uncomfortable scenes when they go into a Duane Reade pharmacy to buy condoms and Griffin’s dad is in the queue at the counter behind them
I’ve read “A Monster Calls” now several times, and the ending of the book brings tears to my eyes just about every time. I found myself tearing up on just about every other page of this book.
This isn’t a comfortable book, but it’s an unflinchingly honest one. Characters hurt each other frequently, both deliberately and accidentally, and it doesn’t pretend that there are any magical shortcuts to getting over something as painful as the death of someone you loved. But for all those reasons and more, I strongly recommend this book. It will reward your perseverance.