A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Title/Author: A Monster Calls/Patrick Ness

Publisher: Walker Books
Pages: 269
ISBN 13: 978-0141039701

In a nutshell
A Monster Calls is about a teenage boy, Conor, who has to come to terms with his mom, the only person he cares about and loves, not recovering from cancer. He has nobody he could turn to. He doesn’t get along with his grandmother and his dad now lives with his new family. His school life isn’t any better either. In the midst of all these problems, the Monster appears, wrecking his life even further, or so he thinks.

What I thought of it
I was first drawn to the black and white illustration by Jim Kay. Dark, sombre, yet beautiful – a great complement to the tone and mood of the story. The complexity of the illustration was a nice balance to the straight forward manner in which the story was written.

‘A Monster Calls’ deals with family issues, teenage angst, peer pressure, loneliness and confusion – all of which young Conor had to come face-to-face with, alone, until the Monster appeared. Conor thought the Monster was there as his protector, only to discover later it was there as reminder of the truth he had kept hidden and daren’t admit. The truth that had separated Conor from the world. The truth, that will heal him and set him free.

“Stories are the wildest thing of all, the monster rumbled. Stories chase and bite and hunt.” So do truths. Yes, truth can be ugly. Admitting it may make one feel vulnerable at first but eventually, it will and can set us free because we’re no longer controlled by it, but rather be the one in control. The fear of revealing ourselves to it, is what holds us back from moving on.

It was the same for Conor. The Monster was to tell Conor 3 stories, and in return, Conor would have to tell him the fourth – that was to be his story, and it will be the truth. And if Conor didn’t do so, “Then I (the Monster), will eat you alive.”

I loved how the story was developed and treated. And the writing was so good it engaged the reader every step of the way, drawing out raw emotions and intensity so real it reaches out to the heart. It was amazing to see how the author managed to use simple words to express complicated, complex emotions. This is one of them (after Conor tore down his grandma’s place):

She (the grandma) walked right past him, her face twisted in tears, the moaning spilling out of her again. She went to the display cabinet, the only thing remaining upright in the room.
And she grabbed it by one side –
And pulled on it hard once –
Twice –
And a third time.
Sending it crashing to the floor with a final-sounding crunch.
She gave a last moan and leant forward to put her hands on her knees, her breath coming in ragged gasps.

One could just feel her emotions right there. The anger, the sadness, the frustration. All clearly shown, not told. Beautiful.

And I’m boggled by how the author created the 3 tales told by the Monster. They were all ‘hints’ to what lay ahead in the story. For example, this part where the Monster was about to tell Conor the 2nd tale, and Conor asked if it was going to be a ‘cheating story’ like the first one. “No, said the monster. It is about a man who thought only of himself. The Monster smiled again, looking even more wicked. And he gets punished very, very badly indeed.” (pg. 108)

Attention was given very evenly to all its characters, except for the Monster and Conor of course, as they played the vital roles of this story. Voices were consistent throughout, and Conor was depicted very clearly as a teenager – in his voice, thoughts and actions.

Some of my favourite quotes were:
“There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere inbetween.” (pg. 74)

“It is a true story, the monster said. Many things that are true feel like a cheat.” (pg. 74)

“Belief is half of all healing.” (pg. 119)

“Stories are important, the monster said. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth.” (pg. 151)

Book bite
When novelist Siobhan Dowd died in 2007, she left four finished books and an idea for a fifth. Rather than let a good idea go to waste, Walker Books commissioned Patrick Ness to write it. Ness, like Dowd, is a brilliant and acclaimed creator of books for older children and young adults, but the two novelists’ voices, their concerns, their styles, are quite different.

My verdict? 4/5
Categorised as a YA read. But I think it’s a great story for any age.

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