A Monster Calls is a horror story aiming at the deepest fears and pains that people try to hide. After young Coner has a recurring nightmare, a monster comes calling minutes after midnight claiming the boy called it. The monster asks Coner to speak his truth—a truth the boy fears—but not before it tells its own tales of when he’s walked the earth. Between these encounters Coner has plenty on his shoulders dealing with his real life nightmare: his mother is deathly ill with cancer, he’s seen by everyone yet is more invisible than ever, and he refuses to acknowledge his reality.
Be warned: A Monster Calls will break your heart. It’s a terribly hard book to review and recommend, though I do because of what it forces you to explore and contemplate—stages of grief. Grief is a difficult subject matter but this was done right in such a subtle, thoughtful way, and does not preach. It deals with the intense anger, guilt and anguish that goes behind it.
There’s the delusion that if you ignore pain and withhold it, it will actually go away. When you try to bury your feelings, you’re just putting a small stopper to a dam. Coner’s dam is threatening to explode and soon it takes a toll. He reaches out to people who push him away, and others try to reach out to him and in turn he pushes them away. Everyone’s aware of his situation but they don’t hold him accountable for his actions. Conor can get away with anything but he doesn’t get what he wants—punishment. The aftermath results in such loneliness and despair that you will find yourself feeling an intense empathy for this young boy.
The word “monster” usually has a negative connotation but not in A Monster Calls. The monster served more as a guide to help Coner face what he was afraid to. It tells tales that read like folklore and have ironic lessons in the reality of humans. Nothing is ever simply black or white, good or bad; there is that blurry line. It sheds light to the conflicting gray areas people fall between and readers see that it’s possible Conor fits right in with these stories. Perhaps his truth is contradicting but he cozies up with lies to ease the pain. I do realize I’m being vague but I don’t want to give away too much. Just trust me when I say this is a very introspective read that makes you contemplate your own truths.
Though A Monster Calls includes illustrations, don’t be fooled into thinking this is some children’s book that a more mature audience cannot relate to; it suits for any age and either gender. Jim Kay’s eerie illustrations encapsulate Ness’ words brilliantly and helps bring the book to life. If you do decide to read this, I suggest buying the novel or checking it out from your local library as not to miss his striking artwork.
A Monster Calls is a quick read without overt flowerly descriptions, but it’s dense with quality and complex examination of our darker feelings. It’s melancholy and painstakingly beautiful, a story that will linger with you for quite some time, if not always.
Patrick Ness wrote this book with inspiration from a premise thought of by Siobhan Dowd, a fellow young adult author who passed away far too soon. Ness’ goal in his own words was “to write a book [he thought] Siobhan would have liked.” I believe he achieved that and more.
Cross-posted to Wit & Fancy