We tend to think of grief and mourning as maladies of the mind, but the loss can grow and expand until it feels like more like a presence than an absence. In the poem “Death Barged In,” Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno describes her pain as a mysterious figure in a Russian greatcoat who barges in, slams the door, and now makes all her decisions for her:
Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck, From now on,
you write about me.
I read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Last Night I Sang To The Monster by Benjamin Alire Sáenz back to back on a whim, only to find out that they have much more in common than just the word ‘monster’ in the title. Both are by incredibly talented young adult authors, both are about troubled families, and in both books, the loss these protagonists so desperately refuse to acknowledge takes on the physical form of a monster, looming over them.
Here’s the thing: I didn’t grow up with The Wizard of Oz.
My parents never read the book to me and for a very long time I was only very vaguely familiar with the musical (something with red shoes and a tornado, right?). As I grew older, I became more and more aware of how deeply this story is woven into Western pop culture and bought the book at a discount fair, thinking that I’d have to read it eventually because it is such a big part of the American cultural heritage. Except that I didn’t, not for many years. I started singing Wicked songs in the shower, I watched a talent show where Andrew Lloyd Webber went looking for a girl to play Dorothy in the West End stage revival of the Oz musical, but I still hadn’t actually read the book.