A young boy is in denial about the imminent death of his mother and so a monster steps in to teach him how to face reality and accept the inevitable. Conor O' Malley's mom is dying from cancer and to make matter's worse, everyone around him including Conor himself, is in serious denial about this fact. At home, Conor's mother pretends that she is fine despite the fact that the myriad of treatments she undergoes are clearly not effective and she never once uses the actual word “cancer”. Naturally, this doesn't help Conor cope with reality very well if his mother can't be straight with him. At school, things are just as bad for him. After his former best friend Lily accidently told the school his mom had cancer everyone started walking on eggshells around him. They weren't how to treat him and eventually started to ignore him, everyone except for Harry and his friends who bully Conor, claiming that he just wants special treatment because his mom is sick. Things aren't great for Conor. On top of that, he's been having awful night mares every night, the same night mare in fact and every night, Conor wakes up at 12:07. One night, he wakes up and finds a monster outside his bedroom window, a terrifying tree like monster. By day, the monster is a yew tree that stands in the churchyard behind Conor's house and by night it is a grotesque monster. Conor is not afraid of the yew tree and asks it what it wants from him. The monster tells him it wants Conor to tell him the truth about his recurring nightmare and Conor will tell him but first, the monster says he will tell him three stories. The monster tells Conor he will return the next night and tell him the first story. The next day, Conor's overbearing Grandmother comes to take care of his mom. Conor's grandmother wants to talk about what will need to happen when Conor's mother passes away but naturally Conor does not want to talk about things at all and feigns ignorance. At night, the yew tree monster returns and tells Conor the first story about a prince, the prince's love, and the prince's stepmother the Queen. The Prince wants to marry the love of his life and if he does so he will ascend to the throne and prince's love will become queen. Obviously, the stepmother is not pleased with this and forbids the union. So, the prince and his love run away so they can be married. After traveling for awhile, the two stop to rest for the night. In the morning, the prince wakes up and sees his love has been stabbed to death. The yew tree they had been sleeping under claims to have seen the whole thing and makes a promise to the prince he will save the innocent. So the Prince returns to the kingdom with the yew tree monster and tells the people the Queen had stabbed his love to death. The people had loved the prince more than the Queen and so believed him and attempt to burn the Queen as a witch. At the last moment, the yew tree swoop's in to save the Queen as it turns out she did not kill the prince's love. The prince framed the Queen to get her off the throne so that he could rule himself. The moral of the story, the tree tells Conor, is that people are a mixture of good and bad, no one is black and white.
Click here to see the rest of this review
The next day, Conor's mom is much worse and has to be taken to the hospital so Conor goes to stay at his grand mom's. After another particularly rough day at school in which Conor is beaten up by Harry again, Conor just wants to curl into a ball and forget everything. He can't though and in his anger, breaks his grandmother's clock. The monster appears and says it's time to tell Conor the second story. The second story is about a selfish apothecary. The apothecary is unhappy because factories are being built and nature is being cut down and the herbs and such he needs for his medicines are becoming scarce. Times are tough. In town is a parson, who has a yew tree in his yard. The apothecary asks the parson if he can buy the bark of the yew tree which a cure all. The parson refuses because he does not believe in apothecary. One day, the parson's daughters become ill and modern medicine can't save them. The parson turns to the apothecary for help but he refuses because the parson would not help him before. The parson's daughters die and the yew tree appears and destroys the apothecary's house for being selfish. When the monster leaves, Conor destroys his grandmother's living room in a fit of rage but when she gets home, she does a bit of destroying herself and then goes to cry in her room. The next morning she does not bring it up.
The next night the monster tells Conor the last story about an invisible man, invisible only because people choose not to see him. This makes the man angry and he lashes out in order to make people see him. The next day at school, Conor lashes out at Harry and beats him quite badly. This gets him the attention he wants from the principal at least.
Later that night, the yew tree visits and tells Conor it is time he told the yew tree the truth; what was his recurring night mare? At first Conor refusing, then the yew tree takes Conor into his night mare so that they may both watch. In it, Conor's mom is hanging off a cliff over a gaping maw that is trying to swallow her whole. Conor can only grasp at her hands and eventually lets her go. The yew tree asks him why he lets his mom go. Conor admits it is because he is tired of being in denial and just wants it all to be over. The next morning Conor visits his mom in the hospital. It is obvious she has only a few minutes left to live. He and his mom finally admit what they know to be true; that she is dying of cancer. Conor is finally able to face the truth head on and tell his mother that he loves her before she passes away.
Best part of story, including ending:
I liked this story's handling of the subject of death and of caring for a loved one. The gist of the story was that it is exhausting taking care of a terminally ill loved one and it doesn't make one a bad person to let go when it is time to let go. A good read for anyone, young or old, dealing with the stresses of taking care of someone who is ill.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when the yew tree forces Conor to face his nightmare and admit why he let go of his mom's hands in the dream. I thought that was a powerful moment that finally allowed Conor to face himself.
Opinion about the main character:
Conor is an eleven year old boy dealing with the imminent death of his mother. Naturally, he acted out but I didn't dislike him for it. I understood his feelings. I did not like or dislike Conor either way, I could only understand and empathize with him.