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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March’s Reads- Why These Books?

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The March 2014 NSBCBC Reads!

This month, I decided to turn to more best-of lists to find our latest reads. All 3 of these books were selected from a mix of Goodreads reviews, Amazon best-of 2013 lists, and NPR recommendations. I’m really excited to read all 3 of these, and hope these help make the final days of winter a little easier! (I have my fingers crossed that by the time I’m on the 3rd read of the month, I’ll be able to read outside and bask in the spring sunshine.)

1. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (Original concept by Siobhan Dowd)

For the first book, I decided to mirror the month of March and charge in like a lion—a really sad, disturbing lion. Although you will find this book in the YA section of your library, it is a complex, graphic-filled novel that is filled to the brim with emotionally heavy themes. From the reviews I saw, apparently this book will leave us devastated. Now, I know you’re thinking “devastated, huh? Sounds REALLY fun!” But I urge you to take the journey with me. The synopsis is too interesting to pass up!

The story explores the fears of loss and the unknown, and tackles “monsters both real and imagined.” The novel (originally conceptualized by writer Siobhan Dowd—whose premature death from cancer prevented her from finishing the story), follows a young boy named Connor, who is haunted by a monster that visits him every night starting at the beginning of his mother’s cancer treatments. Paired with hauntingly beautiful ink drawings, this novel brings a deeply moving experience that will help us understand how to overcome our own monsters.

And if that doesn’t sell you, read this excerpt from the New York Times:

“There’s no denying it: this is one profoundly sad story. But it’s also wise, darkly funny and brave, told in spare sentences, punctuated with fantastic images and stirring silences. Past his sorrow, fright and rage, Conor ultimately lands in a place – an imperfect one, of course – where healing can begin. A MONSTER CALLS is a gift from a generous story­teller and a potent piece of art.

—The New York Times

2. The Golum and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

I’ve always loved magical realism. The idea that mystical creatures could live among us regular folk has always made me smile, and in a way I have always hoped for it to be a real possibility. For example, although I’m 27, I am still holding out hope for an invitation to Hogwarts. (By the way…To the Admissions Office of Hogwarts, Seriously guys. I’m not getting any younger here.) So when I saw the synopsis of Wecker’s debut novel, I was very interested.

The story is about two mystical creatures (a golem and a jinni—and no, not Gollum from Lord of the Rings and Genie from Aladdin, although that would make for a really fun pairing) who go on a magical journey. Together, they experience the many different cultures of New York City during the turn of the century, and create a bond that defies their own cultural boundaries.

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Unfortunately the story does not follow these two, but if someone ever wanted to write that, I’d almost certainly HAVE to read it. I mean, what a dynamic duo!

3. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Shamefully, the bright colors of the cover were the initial reason I checked this book out (Props to the cover artist!). Then the synopsis drew me in a bit further.

The story follows a group of friends who meet at a creative arts camp in the summer of 1974. Throughout life, each of these people pursue their own creative passion, yet only some become successful, while others don’t. The story explores the dynamics between the group as they struggle to incorporate creativity in their lives as they grow and face life’s many challenges.

I also chose this story for my own selfish reasons. I always felt like my group of friends were particularly creative and talented (too much horn tooting?). Now that we’re in our late twenties, we are still exploring our creative sides—just some more than others. I felt like this story would be relatable, and I kinda wanted to see what happened to this creative group, perhaps out of curiosity for my own life’s path.

So there we have it! The March Reads for 2014. Make sure to post your thoughts, art work, poetry, and more to the NSBCBC Facebook page (facebook.com/nsbcbc); tweet us at @notsobookclub; Instagram your reading experience with the #nsbcbc hashtag; and share The Not So Book Club Book Club with your friends! The more readers, the merrier!

Happy reading!

– Nina Sclafani

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