A Monster Calls: The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.

A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd Kindle Edition by Patrick Ness (Author), Siobhan Dowd (Author)A Monster Calls by Patrick NessA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

At seven minutes past midnight, Conor O’Malley is visited by a monster. But it’s not the monster he’s expecting. This monster is wild and ancient. This monster comes in the form of a yew tree that usually stands atop the hill Conor can see from his bedroom window, in the middle of the graveyard. Except that now it is here, outside his bedroom window, and it wants something from Conor.

Conor O’Malley started getting nightmares after his mother got sick. In them he has terrible visions, visions which not even the monstrous yew can compare too, and it is perhaps for this reason that Conor is able to have a relatively nonplussed conversation with the tree outside his window. The mass of leaves and branches takes the shape of a man, and it seems to think Conor summoned him. The tree tells Conor he will tell him three true stories, after which Conor will have to tell the tree a truth in turn. When Conor realises that the truth the tree seeks is what happens in his nightmare, he point blank refuses and shrugs the tree off as a dream. But when he wakes to a carpet full of yew leaves, he begins to realise the monstrous yew might just be real.

A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd Kindle Edition by Patrick Ness We learn that Conor’s mother has cancer and is on another round of chemotherapy. Conor is moved in with his grandmother, a successful businesswoman whose house is clean to the point of being sterile, after his mother is admitted to hospital. His father is in America with his new family, and a new little sister that Conor has never even met. Things aren’t much better for him at school. He is bullied, and when his friend Lily tries to stand up for him, Conor denies any wrongdoing and it is Lily who ends up getting in trouble with the teachers. It seems like the entire world is out to get him. And then there is the monster.

A Monster Calls is not only beautifully written, but beautifully illustrated. Wild and haunting images of the yew tree appear alongside the story, almost as haunting as Conor’s grief itself. They add to what is already a compelling tale, and certainly intensify the reading experience.

Patrick Ness manages to tackle grief, denial, loneliness and anger — vast, universal topics that shape humanity — through a tale of a young boy. The plot is linear and the length short. There are only a handful of characters. There is something so simple and poignant about Conor’s tale that it transcends genre and readership; it is simply a story of humanity that will chime with any reader.

This is an important book. It will resonate with anyone — young or old — that has experienced loss and it doesn’t shy away from all the ramifications that accompany it. The characters will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book and despite the heavy subject matter, A Monster Calls is a story that will leave readers feeling ultimately uplifted. A triumph.

Publisher: At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting— he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd — whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself — Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

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RACHAEL "RAY" MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well -- a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette -- those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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2 comments

  1. Ray, you’ve convinced me — I’m going to make sure to pick this up the next time I’m at the library. Thanks!

  2. Now I simply must get this one.

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