Author: Patrick Ness (inspired by an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd) and with illustrations by Jim Kay
Genre: Fantasy/Contemporary YA
Publisher: Walker UK / Candlewick US
Publication date: 5 May 2011 (UK) / 27 September 2011 (US)
Hardcover: 224 pages
The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth. Costa Award winner Patrick Ness spins a tale from the final idea of much-loved Carnegie Medal winner Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself. Darkly mischievous and painfully funny, A Monster Calls is an extraordinarily moving novel of coming to terms with loss from two of our finest writers for young adults.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Review copy from Walker
Why did I read this book: Thea is a HUGE Patrick Ness fan and has been raving about his books for a while. Then we got offered a copy and OMG when the book came in the post it was all I could do not devour it immediately – the packaging itself, the cover, the lettering, the illustrations, they are absolutely stunning. And THEN, I read this review and knew I just had to read it.
The monster first showed up after midnight – as they do – calling his name: Conor. For all intents and purposes, Conor should be terrified and yet he isn’t because there are things that terrify him more. Like for example, the nightmare. The one he has been having a lot lately, the one he’d rather not talk about. Just like he’d rather not talk about being bullied at school; or about not being on speaking terms with his former best friend Lily; or about his mom’s cancer treatments.
Conor is really not having the best of times which is why it sounds completely ridiculous to him when this monster, a creature out of the worst nightmares (or perhaps, not the worst nightmares, for they are of a different kind) shows up to tell him stories. He says he will tell Conor three stories and at the end of it, Conor will have to tell a fourth and that story will be the truth.
I don’t know what I was expecting from A Monster Calls but it most certainly wasn’t this…this explosive awesomeness. I did not expect this book be this exceptional and there is really no better word for it.
How can a book be about lessons without being about lessons? How can a book be subtle and yet so completely obvious? How can a book be funny and yet so tremendously sad? How can a story be so kind when it deals with such harsh realities? How can a book speak about humanity in general and about one person in particular and make sense and connect both in all of their greyness?How can a book have so many truths inside its pages that it makes me feel like it was written for ME?
I don’t know. I just know that A Monster Calls is all of those things and more. It is superb in its storytelling as it celebrates storytelling itself as the Monster tells his stories. It is unforgettable as it follows a young boy dealing with the saddest thing of all: the prospect of losing a mother. It is hopeful and beautiful even as it leads to the liberal production of heartfelt tears.[1. I am not exaggerating. Keep your tissue box at hand]
Sometimes people ask me why I read this or why I read that: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult, Middle Grade, you name it, I have been asked why I read it. The answer is really, really simple:
I do it because I love good stories and I don’t care what shape or form (or genre or category) they appear before me. I do it because just like the Monster says in this very book:
“Stories are the wildest things of all”.
And I couldn’t be happier with my choices (and this is my own truth), by allowing myself to search for stories anywhere, I have encountered two of the most fabulous stories I have ever read in the space of a few weeks. Incidentally, both are children books with illustrations. The first was The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M Valente and the other is of course, this one. Both are a triumph of the imagination and of the heart, both are incredibly powerful in their storytelling. And I am so glad that I have found these two stories out in the wild and that I have been able to know them.
It bears repeating: for this feeling alone, for feeling like my world expanded when I finished those pages, for getting to know these wonderful stories and these characters, this is why I read.
Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?
Additional Thoughts: On top of being an awesome book period, A Monster Calls also has AWESOME illustrations by Jim Kay. Like for example, this one:
Rating: 10 – Perfection. And it goes straight into my top 10 this year.
Reading next: What We Keep is Not Always What Will Stay by Amanda Cockrell
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