A Monster Calls
By Patrick Ness
Patrick Ness is already well known for his Chaos Walking trilogy (well worth a try if you haven’t already – I loved the first one) but this book has a unique tale behind it. Siobhan Dowd, an author of young adult fiction, originally conceived the idea behind this book but tragically lost her life to breast cancer in 2007. Patrick Ness picked up the baton and ‘ran with it’. The result is a very special book.
This is the story of Conor, raised by a single mother who is battling breast cancer. Conor awakens one night from his recurrent nightmare and is faced with a huge monster molded from a nearby Yew tree. The monster doesn’t scare Conor – after all he has much more horrifying events occurring in his life. The monster regularly visits Conor over the course of his mother’s illness, with the purpose of telling Conor stories of his past. Quite what the monster expects in return is left uncertain until the end.
I had heard this book was sad, so I guessed what the ending was going to be. I couldn’t figure out what purpose the monster would serve to the plot, however. The stories he told were strange and certainly not the straight-forward fables that I (or Conor) expected. However, it all becomes clear in the end. I don’t want to spoil it for you so I will only say that Patrick Ness is a genius.
While the monster injects some humour into the story, given the subject it is inevitably a harrowing and haunting read. I feel drained. I lost my grandmother last month after she battled with Alzheimer’s for 8 years and I saw my own grief in this book. Grief is a complex combination of sadness, anger, relief, and guilt. Patrick Ness handles the subject of chronic terminal illness sensitively, and never oversimplifies it. I am amazed at how he did it.
At the beginning of this book, I thought it was going to be a type of fairy story, and I revelled in the imaginative tales and beautiful illustrations (kudos to Jim Kay for some wonderful artwork), reading the book slowly to fully appreciate it. While those aspects are indeed wonderful, this book ultimately turns out to be so much more and in the end, I couldn’t put it down. This book deserves to be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore, as well as on the YA shelves. Don’t miss it.
Oh…and keep a box of tissues handy.
5 out of 5 stars.
Next: a more light-hearted read, I promise!