I have realised that I am two reviews behind in the illustrated year challenge, so I am combining two books with a linked theme.
13 year old Conor has been having nightmares about a monster. One night he wakes up at 12:07 and hears a voice calling him from the garden. He looks out of the window and sees a monster; a huge creature of human shape, but made of branches, twigs and leaves, like the yew tree in the nearby churchyard. The creature insists that he has been summoned, and that he will tell Conor a story, in return for which Conor will tell him about his nightmare.
Conor's mother, we learn, has terminal cancer, but he cannot accept this. His parents are no longer together; his dad is living in the US with his new wife and baby. His grandmother is a busy professional woman, and is also processing her own grief at the imminent loss of her daughter. Conor also has problems at school. The monster's intervention (always at 12:07) in these problems initially seem to make things worse, but ultimately Conor comes to realise that he must accept the inevitable and say goodbye to his mother.
Again, Ness demonstrates that grief and hurt do not make us nicer people, as Victorian storybooks would have readers believe. Conor's fear and despair at losing his mother makes him behave quite cruelly to his friend, to being destructive to both objects and to people. Ultimately, the monster's stories, elliptical and baffling as they seem, make greater sense to him than teachers' well meaning platitudes.
Jim Kay's black and white illustrations are incredibly atmostpheric. He describes here sitting in the back of the car driving through the countryside as night fell, and the way that familiar objects can seem sinister as they lose definition. The monster, in particular, is perfectly realised; anyone who has hurried down a dark lane between streetlights or by torchlight in the winter will recognise jumping at what seems to be monsters out of the corner of one's eye; on closer inspection they are bushes, or dustbins.
This wonderful book is highly recommended for confident readers of 9+. It is written in straight forward, clear prose, but is no less profound for that.