Facing Our Monsters

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One of the many beautiful and powerful images found throughout Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls. Illustrations by Jim Kay.

Call it what you will— fate, luck, or total coincidence— this week, I was met with a story that felt like it was waiting for me to read it for the past 9 years.

As you may know from reading my blog, when I choose the NSBCBC reads, I base my book selections on reviews, interesting synopsis, recommendations from friends, and the like. However, when I finally crack open these books, I am as new to the experience as you are, so I never truly know what to expect. It is this uncertainty that highlights how amazing it is when you open a book and feel like a greater power has brought that book into your life. So by serendipity or by chance, this happened to me yesterday. Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls found its way into my life, and touched parts of my heart and soul in ways I could have never expected.

In 2005, my grandfather died from lung cancer and losing him was the most prominent and painful death I have ever experienced. He was a man that was stern, and old school, and so incredibly loving despite the fact that he seemed tough as nails. But as cancer does, it stole him from our family and robbed us of the many years we planned on living together. From his diagnosis to his final weeks, time went by in light speed. Despite the medications, changes in diet, and efforts of my incredible family to help him, the disease was so aggressive, you’d blink and in that millisecond he’d appear paler and thinner. However, for the last week of his life, it was if time had decided to cruelly slow down in order to draw out all the fears and pain of our family.

Although it has been almost 10 years, our family still feels the deep sadness of losing one of the greatest men we have ever known.

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2003 – Mohonk Mountain House. Here is my handsome grandfather, Albert Molesphini (left) with his fantastic brother John Molesphini on our amazing family vacation to the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York.

Now, when I picked up A Monster Calls, I knew the general plot. A young boy, dealing with his mother’s cancer, is visited nightly by a monster whose purpose is to help the boy face his fears. However, I didn’t automatically associate it with my grandfather’s cancer. The word “cancer” has become such a part of our vernacular that I didn’t believe this story would (or could) feel tailor-made to my own experience. But as I read, I could feel the deepest parts of my heart tighten from the pain all over again, and things I tried so desperately to suppress reemerge. I found myself transformed into the protagonist and it was me who the monster was visiting—forcing me to face my fears of death and loss all over again. But as the pages flipped by, I felt the walls I’ve built up over the past 9 years slowly break down, piece by piece, and by the end I was exhausted. With my face and shirt soaked in tears, I felt like I made my way through the last week of my grandfather’s life all over again, but came out seeing a new light—a comforting light. And with this light, I could revisit the loss, remember the love, and continue to move on.

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One of my favorite family photographs, taken around 1990 (?) in our vacation home in the Poconos. Pictured with my grandfather is my equally amazing grandmother, Faye Molesphini, and on the bottom is a cake-hypnotized me, my cousin Anthony, and my older sister Kristen.

A Monster Calls felt like therapy to me. It felt deeply personal and allowed me to reach into the darkest parts of myself and emerge a better person. And it’s this experience that only solidifies my love of books even more. Books allow us to have truly human experiences, even when we don’t feel comfortable sharing those parts of ourselves with others or when we don’t think we have the strength to get through a conversation. They can give us comfort, make us laugh, and make us cry. They can guide us, or scare us, or expose us to new worlds. And sometimes, they can find their ways into our lives, may it be by fate or chance, and help us face our own monsters when we least expect it.

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