A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

3 Feb
This book DESTROYED me. I’m talking heaving sobs, running nose, and my cat looking at me in alarm. This is not the norm for me – yes, I cried while watching The Notebook (don’t judge me) and March did startle a sob out of me, but usually I just tear up when reading a sad or moving scene. But A Monster Calls just dug deep into me and wrenched out all my childhood fear about losing a loved one and how scary and isolating that would be. I hadn’t realized I’d carried those fears with me into adulthood, but there I was, sobbing while reading the last thirty or so pages. This isn’t coming off like a ringing endorsement to GO and READ THIS BOOK, but it is. This book is good for your soul.

Conor O’Malley has been having nightmares that wake him up screaming. Conor would do anything to escape these nightmares, but one night, at 12:07 AM, a real nightmare comes to visit. This nightmare is a monster, formed from the limbs of the yew tree outside, and it comes for Conor. Surprisingly, Conor isn’t scared – how can anything be scarier than the nightmare he lives through every night? Along with the incessant nightmares, Conor’s mom is dying of cancer, and his world has shrunk to a very small sphere containing himself, his mother, his acidic grandmother, and the various kids at school, most of whom ignore him in his misery. Harry, the school bully, doesn’t ignore Conor, though, and Lily, his oldest friend, tries to reconnect with Conor. Conor’s pain creates an almost physical barrier around him, and only the monster can reach him.

As the monster begins to draw out Conor’s pain like draining the infection on a wound (gross image), the reader begins to see just how deep it goes. The monster tells Conor that Conor has called him to help, and that he will do so by telling him three stories. After the third story, the monster will ask Conor to tell a fourth story, his truth. Conor is more than skeptical of this weird being that he’s half-convinced is a figment of his imagination, but he’s desperate for something. What I loved about these stories is there’s no obvious right or wrong, no satisfying justice or heroes and villains, a fact of life that truly is tough to learn as a kid. For someone like Conor, who is losing his mom to a disease they can’t out-fight, it is resoundingly true. The whole book builds and builds tension, so that by the time of the final climax, the reader is just as exhausted as Conor and just as ready to finally hear the truth. And that sobbing I talked about? It’s a relief, honestly.

If you’ve got a case of the book touchies like I do, you’ll love this book. It’s beautiful. The glossy pages (a happy surprise) are illustrated by Jim Kay in stunning and creepy black and white. The monster is indeed monstrous-looking, and truly looks like an amalgam of tree parts representing something man-shaped. The illustrations almost reminded me of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books in their starkness, which I remember completely freaked me out in middle school. A Monster Calls‘ drawings were more nature-based than that, but the jarring quality is the same for me. The book also involved an interesting collaboration between Siobhan Dowd and Patrick Ness – Dowd came up with the idea for the story, but died before she was able to write the book. Ness took that idea and created A Monster Calls, dedicating the book to Dowd. Considering Dowd herself died of cancer, it seems a lovely tribute to have taken her final story idea and turned it into such a beautiful book.

3 Responses to “A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness”

  1. Bowrag February 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

    Thanks for the review. I’m going to look for this book

    • Amanda February 3, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

      Excellent, you won’t regret it! It really is very beautiful.

  2. n&dbookblog February 4, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    Im an emotional reader! gosh! will i be able to get through the book?! Great review, ill put it on my to read list.

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